Former Baltimore MTA Employee Pleads Guilty to Stealing $400,000 from Bus Fare Boxes

Used Stolen Money to Finance a Second Home and a Second Car,
and for Car Repairs and Merchandise

December 15, 2009

Baltimore, Maryland - David Mark Pattawi, age 36, of White Marsh, Maryland, pleaded guilty today to theft of $400,000 from the Maryland Transit Administration (MTA), announced United States Attorney for the District of Maryland Rod J. Rosenstein.

“David Mark Pattawi treated MTA bus fare boxes as his own personal piggy banks, stealing enough nickels, dimes and quarters to finance an extravagant lifestyle that included a new home and luxury cars,” said U.S. Attorney Rod J. Rosenstein. “This case illustrates that most security systems are vulnerable to corrupt employees. Mr. Pattawi was brought to justice thanks to an effective investigation that included surveillance, search warrants and analysis of financial records.”

MTA Administrator Ralign T. Wells stated, “This incident goes far beyond the theft of bus fares, it’s an egregious breach of public trust. MTA employees have a duty to uphold high standards of service and honesty. Anyone who violates the public trust in this way will be prosecuted. MTA has since implemented changes in the revenue collection process and protocols are in place to prevent future incidents.”

“This prosecution was the culmination of the combined efforts of state and federal law enforcement agencies working together to bring this case to a successful conclusion,” said Acting MTA Chief of Police, Lt. Colonel John E. Gavrilis.

According to his plea agreement, Pattawi was employed by the MTA from November 2, 2001 to March 12, 2008. Pattawi worked in the fare box maintenance division located at 1515 Washington Boulevard in Baltimore. He repaired the fare boxes on transit buses, and worked on the computerized fare box collection system that was installed beginning in November 2004.

The fare box is a self-contained system into which the bus rider directly deposited cash. Neither the bus driver nor the employee who removed the cash box at the end of the bus route were involved in collecting money or had any access to the contents of the cash boxes. When the manufacturer began installing the fare box system, it provided MTA with portable electronic keys designed to allow repairmen to access the fare box to make repairs. The fare box computer notes the date and time of each occasion when the electronic key is used.

At the end of January, 2006, Pattawi transferred from fare box maintenance to radio communications and began working unsupervised on the 11:00 p.m. to 7:00 a.m. shift.

From at least January 2007 through March 2008, Pattawi began entering buses parked at the Bush Street and Eastern Avenue depots. Using an electronic key, he opened the fare boxes and took the cash contained therein. From November 2007 to March 13, 2008, MTA Police, assisted by the Maryland State Police, surveilled both depots and saw Pattawi or his vehicle in the area on nine occasions. On each occasion, computer data showed that fare boxes had been accessed by a portable electronic key. On January 20, 2008, MTA officers observed Pattawi walking away from a bus. The officers noted that the red fare box light was on, indicating that it had been accessed. An MTA Treasury official arrived and determined from the fare box computer that the box should contain $642.83. The box was empty, however, except for a couple of one dollar bills.

On March 12, 2008, MTA Police and Maryland State Police officers searched Pattawi’s principal residence in White Marsh, another house that he owned in Baltimore City and his automobile. They seized an electronic key, the existence of which the MTA was unaware. Law enforcement also seized coin counters, currency counters, boxes of paper coin wrappers, $8,000 in U.S. Postal money orders that were purchased with cash, $9,053 in cash and a bullet key. A bullet key is a device that fits onto a slot on the cash box. By inserting the bullet key into the cash box, the lid opens and the money in the container becomes accessible.

An analysis by a U.S. Postal Inspector revealed that Pattawi had access to large amounts of cash and relied heavily on cash-based transactions. From January 2007 to March 2008, the inspector found that Pattawi had purchased over $48,000 in money orders with cash. Pattawi used $12,200 in money orders to buy a Lincoln Navigator and spent $8,683 in cash for service and maintenance for his Land Rover. Pattawi also bought consumer items from stores in cash, then canceled the purchases and was reimbursed with checks from the stores.

“The U.S. Postal Inspection Service is dedicated to protecting its customers from fraud and other crimes where the U.S. Postal system is used in the furtherance of criminal activity,” said Inspector in Charge Daniel S. Cortez.

Pattawi had his MTA salary of $60,174 electronically deposited into his account from January 2007 through March 2008. Yet, during the year 2007, Pattawi made 13 cash deposits, ranging from $1,100 to $7,200, for a total of $47,487 in three separate bank accounts.

On February 15, 2008 Pattawi purchased a new home for $486,447. Pattawi paid over $23,000 down as earnest money and paid $96,818 at settlement. In his loan application, Pattawi reported a monthly gross salary from MTA of $5,946 and $100,000 in liquid funds in savings and investment accounts.

Pattawi faces a maximum sentence of 10 years in prison, and a fine of $250,000 or equal to two times the illegal gain. U.S. District Judge J. Frederick Motz scheduled sentencing for February 22, 2010 at 9:00 a.m.

United States Attorney Rod J. Rosenstein thanked the U.S. Postal Inspection Service; the Maryland Transit Police, MTA Office of Treasury; and the Maryland State Police for their investigative work. Mr. Rosenstein commended Assistant United States Attorney Stephen M. Schenning, who is prosecuting the case.



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