- The Washington Times - Thursday, February 26, 2004

An irate Metro Board yesterday berated and questioned transit agency officials about how parking lot cashiers at subway stations have stolen millions of dollars in parking fees over several years.

The results of an internal audit, publicized a week after board members had discussed the need to raise fares and fees, show that some Metro cashiers have stolen $500,000 to $1 million a year from cash payments made at parking lots and garages.

“This is extraordinarily damaging news for this organization,” said board member Jim Graham, a Democrat who represents Ward 1 on the D.C. Council.

Board members yesterday scrambled to determine how much money is unaccounted for.

“We need [a definitive amount],” Mr. Graham said. “We’re talking about theft, and if it’s to the tune of $1 million annually, then that is a big deal.”

Board Vice Chairman Gladys W. Mack, who represents D.C. Mayor Anthony A. Williams, warned her colleagues to prepare for the public backlash, especially amid the recent talks of fare increases.

“Customers are going to be outraged,” Mrs. Mack said. “They’re going to say, ‘If you had been doing your job, you wouldn’t be asking us for money.’”

Mrs. Mack called the situation “embarrassing” but said she is glad it has been brought to light.

The Washington Post reported yesterday that Metro workers have stolen millions of dollars from the pay parking lots and garages due to lax oversight, according to the transit agency’s auditor and other officials. Metro has fired 31 cashiers, and police have filed felony theft charges against two others.

“If people are stealing, firings aren’t enough,” said board member Chris Zimmerman, a Democrat who also serves on the Arlington County Board.

Metro officials would not release the auditor’s report, saying audits are not public documents.

Under intense questioning by board members yesterday, Metro General Manager Richard A. White said he had become aware of the situation a few weeks ago.

Board members expressed anger that transit officials did not reveal the problem and were uncertain of the amount of money stolen.

“There is a trust issue out there,” said board Chairman Dana Kauffman, a Democrat who also serves on the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors. “We have to make certain [that] customers feel comfortable that the money they spend [benefits them].”

Representatives of Penn Parking Inc., the private company that operates Metro’s pay parking lots and garages, said transit officials were made aware of the situation nearly four years ago.

But Metro officials did not perform an audit until last year, acting on an anonymous tip.

“Your performance with Metro has been absolutely stellar,” Mr. Graham told Mr. White yesterday. “But this is a lapse.”

Officials said they will propose to the Budget Committee on March 11 to install adequate fee-collection equipment and eliminate eight cash locations. Parking at some Metro lots might be payable only by SmarTrip cards.

“The less cash there is, the less of a chance there is to steal,” Mr. Graham said.

This article is based in part on wire service reports.

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