Alexandria Parking Meter Repairman Accused of Stealing $170,000 in Coins

An Alexandria parking meter repairman is accused of skimming money from broken meters.
An Alexandria parking meter repairman is accused of skimming money from broken meters. (Robert A. Reeder - Washington Post)
By Allison Klein and Jonathan Mummolo
Washington Post Staff Writers
Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Imagine $170,000. Now imagine that much in quarters and nickels and dimes.

That's how much money Alexandria police say William J. Fell stole, canister by canister, from his job as a parking meter repairman over about a year.

After becoming suspicious, police searched his Stafford County home last week. And hit the jackpot. They found much of the booty there -- in a bucket, in rolls and in a cup, court documents said.

"It's pretty bold," Sgt. Shahram Fard, who oversees the city's property crimes unit, said yesterday. "I've never recovered that much money in a search warrant."

The 61-year-old city employee did it, police say, by going to work at 3 a.m., well before his shift started. He would jump in his city truck and, under the cover of darkness, empty into bags the contents of coin canisters from parking meters all over Old Town, according to court documents.

Then he would drive back to his personal car, stash the bags in his trunk and go about his normal workday fixing meters, a search warrant affidavit said.

By the time police caught up with him, his house looked a bit like a Las Vegas casino, documents show. There were coins in cups, coins in canisters, coins in a silver box. Police said they found paper money in a safe and in zip-lock bags. They also found the top of a parking meter in the house.

Fell, who worked for the city for 16 years before his promotion in June in the Department of Transportation and Environmental Services, faces two counts of embezzlement by a public officer and is being held at the city jail. He told an Alexandria judge that he needed a public defender because he did not have enough money to hire a lawyer.

Last year, the city took in just over $1 million in revenue from its 1,040 parking meters, officials said. But they realized something was amiss. They had raised the rates to $1 an hour but weren't getting as much money as they expected.

"It didn't make accounting sense," said city spokesman Tony Castrilli.

A supervisor became suspicious of Fell and began following him during his morning rounds, watching him steal the coins, according to court documents. Alexandria officials called police, who hid a surveillance camera in his city truck, according to the documents.

Between Jan. 22 and March 16, Fell was secretly recorded on his early morning route as he took bags and bags of coins, the documents said. He would empty between one and 24 canisters a day, with each full canister containing about $80, according to the affidavit. In all, police said, he stole at least $170,000.


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