ALEXANDRIA, Va. (AP) — Two former Metro workers were sentenced to prison Friday for stealing more than $500,000 in coins and petty cash from farecard machines and using much of the money to buy instant lottery tickets.
U.S. District Judge Leonie Brinkema imposed a three-year sentence on former Metro police officer John Haile, 52, of Woodbridge and a 2- 1/2-year sentence on revenue technician Horace McDade, 58, of Bowie, Md., saying the crimes showed “a total lack of integrity.”
The money that was stolen “could have helped fix the broken escalators and the other things that are driving the public
crazy,” Brinkema said, alluding to the state of disrepair on the Metro system in recent years. “They’ve got enough problems right now. Adding this type of insult to injury doesn’t help.”
Haile received a longer sentence because he still refuses to tell authorities how he obtained two keys that aided in the thefts. Metro Transit Police Chief Michael Taborn, who spoke at Friday’s hearing and urged the judge to impose a stiff sentence, said the fact that Haile still refuses to explain how he obtained the keys is a concern.
“I can’t imagine what would be the reason” that he refuses to cooperate, Taborn said, given that he could have received a shorter sentence if he had told investigators how he got the keys.
The investigation is ongoing.
Both men apologized for their actions, but the judge rejected their requests for shorter prison terms and imposed sentences in line with federal sentencing guidelines and prosecutors’ requests.
“These men were on the front lines of securing Metro’s fares, and they brazenly abused their positions — shift after shift, year after year — to steal half a million dollars from Metro and local taxpayers,” said Neil MacBride, U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia, whose office prosecuted the case.
In court papers, prosecutors said that they think the men actually stole far more than $500,000, but that they can’t prove it. The thefts appeared to occur over a number of years –unexplained cash deposits were tracked to Haile’s bank accounts as far back as 2008.
Authorities say the two men would switch their shifts around so they could work together. They would hide sacks of coins stolen from fare machines underneath an overpass by the Courtyard Marriott in Alexandria, not far from one of Metro’s revenue collection facilities. They would go back and collect the money at the end of the day. McDade told the judge at his plea hearing in March that the money was sometimes gone by the time they went back for it.
The investigation began after a source told police that Haile would routinely pull up in a Jaguar to a convenience store in Woodbridge and, in full uniform, buy massive numbers of scratch-off tickets with $500 bags of coins. Lottery officials say Haile had reported winnings of $32,000 in 2011 alone, and that counts only winning tickets of $600 or more.
In court papers, a lottery official estimated that, with average luck, Haile would have had to purchase more than $1 million in lottery tickets in 2011 to have those kinds of winnings.
Haile said he has been receiving treatment for gambling addiction. His lawyer, Steven Bullock, said the bizarre
circumstances of the crime show that Haile was dealing with a real addiction.
“To go to a convenience store, repeatedly, day after day, and play scratch-off tickets … something’s wrong here. Something’s fundamentally wrong,” said Bullock, noting that the scratch-off session lasted as long as 90 minutes. “This was akin to a drug fix.”
McDade also bought lottery tickets, but authorities said he more often used the money for purchases at home-improvement and jewelry stores.
Both men were ordered to make restitution and will be required to make monthly payments of $200 each when they are released from prison.
Carol Kissal, Metro’s chief financial officer, said she also suspects that the two stole more than $500,000 but said she can’t say for sure by how much. The case has been demoralizing to Metro’s morale and damaged the transit agency’s reputation with the public, she said.
“There is a trust between Metro and its riders, and it’s easy to break,” she said.
(Copyright 2012 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)