Three MTA employees arrested in $500,000 theft from fare boxes


Three Mass Transit Administration employees were arrested yesterday, and police were seeking a fourth in connection with a two-year theft scheme in which $500,000 was taken from the fare boxes of the administration's buses.

The employees, three of whom were security guards, allegedly stole the money using a magnetic key to open the fare boxes, according to Detective John Poliks and Haven Kodeck, a Baltimore assistant state's attorney in charge of the Economic Crimes Unit.

"There was a fox watching the chicken house," said Mr. Kodeck.

Arrested yesterday were Wanda Barnes, 27, of the 6600 block of Moonflower Court; Arvelle Cole, 42, of the 400 block of Gwynn Avenue; and Bettie McKnight, 46, of the 1000 block of Vine Street. All three were indicted Thursday on charges of theft and conspiracy. Ms. Barnes was also charged with one count of

perjury. Ms. Barnes and Ms. McKnight were security guards. Mr. Cole was a "vault puller," responsible for removing fare boxes from the buses.

Before her indictment last week, Ms. Barnes was shown some of the video tapes used in the investigation and was asked to explain her actions to authorities and to the grand jury, said Mr. Kodeck. Ms. Barnes allegedly lied to the grand jury and was subsequently charged with perjury.

Another security guard, Milton Tapp, 58, of the 1500 block of Sheffield Road, was expected to be arrested today.

MTA officials first suspected a theft scheme when discrepancies between the amount of money taken in fares and the amount withdrawn from the fare boxes began to show up in audit reports. Each fare box holds between $700 and $1,000.

Last spring, MTA police and the Economic Crimes Unit launched their investigation into thefts at three MTA sites: 201 S. Oldham St.,2226 Kirk Ave. and 1515 Washington Blvd. Yesterday's arrests resulted from the investigation at the Washington Boulevard office where, between March 3 and April 19 of this year, authorities installed a hidden video camera.

"The original fare box wasn't broken into to get the money; it was broken into to get the [magnetic] key," said Detective Poliks.

Police are continuing their investigation. The suspects are scheduled for arraignment July 1.

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