Archive for the ‘Crime’ Category

It’s been an odd week in parking news, mainly because of two six figure stories on opposite ends of the spectrum. In Chicago, we finally have a resolution to the car that accrued more than $105,000 in tickets at O’Hare airport; and in Buffalo, NY we have a meter technician that was caught stealing $210,000 in quarters over 8 years. First, let’s take a look at the Windy City.

As some may recall, a car owned by Jennifer Fitzgerald of Chicago was left in the O’Hare International Airport employee parking lot for more than three years, accruing 678 tickets totaling $106,000 during that time. She filed a suit with the city, showing evidence that while the car had been in her name, it had belonged to a now-ex boyfriend for all intents and purposes. He worked at O’Hare, and was the one who abandoned the vehicle in the lot, refusing to have the car signed over to his name. With the car in an employee lot where she was not allowed to go, Fitzgerald was unable to retrieve it. On top of that, after a vehicle has been deemed abandoned for two to three months, by law the city is supposed to tow and impound the vehicle, but parking enforcement workers at O’Hare never did this. Instead, they continued to ticket the vehicle for years, not just fining it for parking violations but also for having illegally tinted windows or out of date city tags and registration. While parking enforcement denies having quotas, it’s fairly obvious that employees were ticketing this car again and again instead of towing it to boost some kind of metric that they’re evaluated on.

Yesterday, Ms. Fitzgerald’s suit was dismissed and a settlement agreed upon with the city. She would pay a total of $4500 to clear the tickets and fines, with a $1600 down payment to be made by her former boyfriend and the rest to be paid off by Fitzgerald in monthly installments of $78 for the next three years. While being less than 5% of what was owed, this seems like a fairly equitable settlement; the majority of those fines shouldn’t have been there as the vehicle should have been towed, the ex boyfriend is taking care of a big chunk of it, with the rest on Fitzgerald (who missed an earlier court date related to the tickets, thereby increasing them all exponentially). Still, the fact that it took more than three years to even notice this is alarming, and just goes to show just how lax city oversight of parking enforcement and operations usually is.

That said, Chicago is still ahead of the game compared to Buffalo, NY where city meter mechanic James Bagarozzo was sentenced to two and half years in prison for stealing more than $210,000 in quarters from city meters between 2003 and 2011. Using his position and technical skills, he rigged about 70 parking meters so that he could collect from them undetected. He would then go to the bank on his lunch hour and roll and exchange the coins. I once had to roll nearly $50 in quarters and other change, and that took hours; Jimmy Bagz (that’s what I’m calling him now) rolled more than 10,000 pounds, that’s five tons, of quarters! Jimmy Bagz had one co-conspirator, a co-worker named Lawrence Charles who helped with the scheme for five years and stole $15,000 in that period.

So how did they get caught? Well that’s the beauty of this story, one that just drives home the point I make again and again in so many of these stories: a little attention and oversight by the city’s parking management will save money and keep most parking abuses from happening. You see, Buffalo parking commissioner Kevin Helfer noticed that the digital meters in the city were making significantly more money than the old mechanical meters, which is odd. He had an investigation launched and using video surveillance they were able to discover that Jimmy Bagz had been stealing fro the old meters daily. When the FBI was called in and they confronted Jimmy Bagz, he admitted to the thefts (which are considered a federal crime). Since this debacle, the city has switched entirely to digital meters that take both credit cards and coins and are next to impossible to rob. Since making these changes and ending Jimmy Bagz’ scheme, city parking meter revenue is up $500,000 annually. With that kind of improvement, you have to wonder if there might have been others skimming off the top as well. Regardless, the city and it’s citizens are all benefitting from this wannabe Stan Smith finally being caught, and all thanks to a parking official that actually took their job seriously and paid attention to what was going on.

As of yet, there is no word on whether Kevin Helfer looks like Forrest Whitaker, but I find the story far more amusing to imagine he does.

Last week I talked about how local governments have been putting a squeeze on the travel parking industry, citing a few examples across the country in addition to the numerous instances I have covered in this blog. This week, we’re going to examine the motivations behind this industry squeeze and how these efforts have progressed beyond individual instances and turned into an endemic that is having a chilling effect on the entire industry.

So what’s the motivation behind this abuse of government power? Well money of course, though more specifically budget deficits. Parking is usually one of the only sources of revenue with a low relative overhead available to most municipalities, and these funds are frequently used to pay for special projects and budget shortfalls, as well as too infrequent infrastructure improvements to parking facilities. More often, infrastructure improvements are funded with bonds, which can come back to bite the city in the ass and all too often end up being used for unnecessary projects rather than vital improvements. With so many local governments struggling with a severe shortage of funds, they’ve been leaning even more heavily on their parking revenue, and more than a few have been willing to wield their authority to squash out any perceived competition. Because hey, why rise to the challenge of your competition when you can just change the rules so no one else can play the game?

A common way that parking authorities put the squeeze on off-site operators is through the access fees they charge to allow their shuttles onto the airport. You see, for each shuttle run to the port (air or sea) a fee is charged to the offsite parking facility. These fees typically were only a few dollars if that, but whenever budget shortfalls occur or there’s a new project that needs to be funded, raising these fees is usually one of the first things that happen. Since many offsite parking businesses operate with a low profit margin, having to rely on the quantity of their business to remain profitable. As these fees have risen, parking  businesses have had to pass that access cost onto the consumer, hence the one-time access fee of a couple dollars that’s added onto your bill at most offsite parking facilities. Not only will port authorities raise these fees to beef up their budget, they’ll also wield it as a weapon against offsite businesses, such as in Port Canaveral where they wanted to raise the fee so high that it would have instantly forced the closing of all the offsite parking businesses. In other cases, such as what’s unfolding in Nashville, they’ll selectively raise the fees on offsite parking facilities (more than tripling it in Nashville) while reducing the fees for hotel shuttles to access the port, even when those hotels are actively running an offsite parking business out of their lots as many of them do these days. It is literally robbing Peter to pay Paul, and this happens because the hotels typically hold far more sway over municipal authorities as such large economic drivers in their local economies, to say nothing of the typically incestuous relationship between hotel management and the commissions that run most air and sea ports. It’s one of the oldest forms of political corruption out there and it’s alive and well in many port and parking authorities.

Another way that municipalities have been having a chilling effect on the parking industry is through the way they’ve put a squeeze on investment, slowing or preventing the growth of parking businesses. As most of us are aware, since the recession, investment capital has been much harder to come by unless you’re already a mutli-million dollar corporation. The parking business is generally seen as a safe investment, as there is very little capital or debt needed after the initial development phase and it provides stable long term returns. While there’s nothing to be done about the general investment climate but to weather it, the real damage is being done by the uncertainty that is being created by local governments. One of the three key factors in investing in parking is how stable and sustainable the business in question is, and for travel parking businesses that means how likely it is that the business will retain ownership of their land, the ability to acquire more land down the line for expansion and growth, and how likely continued access to the air or cruise port in question will be in the short and long term. Traditionally this has been a strength for parking businesses, aw air and cruise ports don’t move often and the land around them tends to be undesirable for most other business and residential concerns, but that has changed since the recession, particularly in the past year. Whether it’s Indianapolis’s airport fighting to keep parking businesses from buying land for years on end, Port Canaveral pulling a 180 and refusing to issue permits to businesses that had already bought the land and marketed their grand opening in good faith as happened to Premier Parking, or trying to seize offsite parking businesses through eminent domain as happened to Cramer Airport Parking in Pennsylvania, these actions, particularly their ramped up frequency and aggression, has made for an uncertain and unstable investment environment. While the parking management giants continue to barrel ahead and reap ever greater profits, the industry as a whole has been suffering from this uncertainty and investment crunch, something that is borne out by 2012’s being the markedly slowest year of growth since the 2008 crash.

So what’s the remedy to this endemic corruption throughout our municipal system? Well daylight seems to be one of the best solutions. Most of these things are able to happen because no one is paying attention. I’m someone who works in and writes about the parking industry, and even I find it dull at times. And of course anyone who’s been to a city council or municipal committee meeting knows that those are typically duller than traffic court. When the Port Authority in Canaveral was declaring all-out war on the parking industry, it was the public outcry in support of the only two non-cronies on the Port Commission that stopped all their shenanigans and led to the ouster of the Port Authority’s CEO and greedy-bastard-in-chief Stan Payne. At the end of the day, it’s up to the public to take a stern look at their public servants, hold them accountable and tell them to stop being lazy and corrupt and to deal with their competition by rising to the challenge instead of trying to poison the well, because, frankly, no one else is going to do it. Surprisingly, many of these incidents happen in areas that have very active Tea Party and anti-government movements, yet none of these groups have pounced on these instances of government abuse; hopefully that will change and government watchdog groups will realize that tackling these abuses are not only good for their local economy and government, but great publicity for the need for keeping an eye on the government and the good that watchdog groups can have.

One of the most exciting new technologies that has been steadily gaining steam is 3D printing. Much like the advent of file sharing music and video files, it is a technology poised to completely upend the manufacturing industry as well as countless others as new uses for the technology are being discovered; NASA even recently did experiments with 3D printed pizzas! And with companies like Staples planning to offer cheap and accessible 3D printing, we will soon see people from all walks of life using the technology in innovative ways. One of those innovations occurred just this month, and already has been making waves: the first functioning 3D printable gun.

The design and first working model was made by a Texas law Student who was inspired by early anarchist writings to make the design and distribute it for free online. Within a couple days of announcing this, the design was downloaded more than 100,000 times before the U.S. State Department intervened and demanded the designs be taken down while they examined their legality. While they have yet to issue a decision, it seems highly likely that the schematics violate the U.S. ban on undetectable firearms as well as international arms laws. The crux of the issue lies in the fact that the printed firearms are undetectable to most metal detectors and have no serial number or other traceable information, making them the perfect weapon for criminals. This concern was only exacerbated when within a week, a modified version of the schematics that made the guns sturdier and more accurate was revealed (though thankfully not posted online) as well as the production of the first 3D printed bullets.

Luckily, people have taken notice. Homeland Security issued a nationwide alert about the firearms, warning that metal detectors would be insufficient to detect them and that in the long run it would be impossible to keep the files from spreading online (even as we speak, they are being hosted and downloaded on file sharing sites all over the world). Senators and congressmen at the state and federal level immediately proposed bills explicitly banning the firearms and their production, and unlike most gun control legislation these have little to no opposition; in fact, it’s expected that the NRA will take a stand against them. On top of all of that, the technology is still prohibitively expensive as 3D printers are not widely available yet, and most companies that offer such services either outright refuse to make printable firearms or charge prices far in excess of buying a regular firearm.

While this new innovation is alarming, we have plenty of time before it manifests as a real threat, and it seems that everyone from  government to private industry wants to address this long before that time comes. Still, better safe than sorry, so I’d recommend sending an email or making a phone call to your local congressman or senator to let them know that you want to see this threat taken care before it goes from possibility to reality.

In case you hadn’t noticed, there’s been a rash of crimes and shooting in parking lots lately. The vast majority of these events have happened in store parking lots and garages (WalMart parking lots in particular seems to be a beacon to criminals), but any parking lot provides enticing opportunities for criminals. Although there are no foolproof measures, learning and following a couple of basic safety practices can greatly reduce the chances of your becoming a victim.

  • Be Aware: This is the number one tip from safety experts when it comes to parking lot safety. Parking lots have all kinds of potential hiding spots. That’s why, when on the way to or from your car, don’t be talking or texting on your cell phone, and don’t be listening to music; predators target prey who are distracted and unaware. Be wary of any cars cruising the lanes but passing up open parking spots.
  • Be Prepared: Predators target parking lots because its easy to catch people off guard. That’s why a little preparation can thwart many attempted crimes. When going to your car, have your key in hand so you don’t have to search or fumble for it. If you have mace/pepper spray or a personal alarm, have that ready or in hand as well. Lock your car doors as soon as you enter or exit it,
  • Be Smart: Criminals are by nature ignorant and stupid, so outsmarting them isn’t all that hard. Avoid poorly lit areas whenever possible, as well as stairs and elevators since these areas tend to be out of sight of security guards and cameras if they’re present at all, as well as dampening sound. As soon as enter or exit your car, being traveling to your destination. If you have to make a phone call, don’t sit in your car in the parking lot; instead, wait until you can park in a well-lit, safe area or are out of the parking lot and inside a building or in a public place. Know where nearby exits and security are so you can get to safety as quickly as possible if anything goes wrong. Don’t leave valuables in easy view, and lock them in your glove compartment or trunk.
  • Be Brave: To quote one of my personal heroes, “Criminals are a superstitious and cowardly lot.” If you end up in the terrible situation of being accosted by criminal, the unfortunate truth is that whatever they may be willing to do in a parking lot becomes ten times worse once they have you in your car or further away from any potential help, so the time to act is then and there. If you have a personal safety device, use it and immediately head toward the nearest public place or security/law enforcement officer. Make as much noise as possible and stay in the light. For women, try to not wear heels or other shoes that restrict movement in the lot.
There’s no way to guarantee 100% safety in a parking lot or garage, but that’s no reason to be careful and safe. The tips above are by no means a comprehensive list, but they reflect some of the most common and effective advice from security and law enforcement experts. While most professional parking facilities see far less crime than public facilities, don’t leave your safety completely in the hands of others.

I’ve dedicated a fair amount of space on this blog to the parking failures of the government, but parking scandals are anything but one sided. With that in mind, I present to you the story of Jose “Jay” Nieves, entrepreneur, petty crook and one time “owner” of Premier Parking Spot in Port Canaveral, FL.

Jay Nieves, “legitimate businessman”, being confronted by WFTV Orlando Channel 9’s Jeff Deal

Premier Parking Spot used to be an off-site cruise parking business in Port Canaveral. Last spring, after hearing some rumors about Premier Parking Spot employees taking customers cars out on joyrides, local WFTV Channel 9 Orlando reporter Jeff Deal decided to investigate. With that in mind, he rented a fire-red, 480 horsepower, V-8 2012 Corvette, the kind of car that would make anyone, not just Ferris Bueller, want to take a day off and take it for a spin. And I’ll say one thing, Nieves is probably about as ballsy as Ferris Bueller.

You see, Deals outfitted the car with a GPS tracking device and hidden cameras, and then had a couple that was taking a cruise drop it off at Premier Parking Spot. The car was there for all of six hours before the gps tracking device started reporting that the car was on the move. Following the GPS signal, WFTV film crew recorded Nieves taking the corvette on a joyride with another employee, peeling out on dirt roads and posing for pictures in front of it. Nieves left it at his home overnight, then later used to run errands, at one point even loading the Corvette with lumber and letting a dog run around in the car. Although the car had been left at his parking facility, technically what he did was car theft (WFTV decided not to press charges, as the whole point had been to expose Nieves and inform the public).

After a couple days of this, Deal confronted Nieves outside of his business, where they had just watched him drive up in the Corvette and then leave it out front with the top down and one of the doors open for 20 minutes before coming out again. It was at this point that Deal confronted Nieves, showing him video they had of Nieves driving the car all over town. Not only did Nieves deny any joyriding, he denied the car was a customers, even after being told that there was a GPS tracking device in the car and seeing the video! Like I said, if nothing else Nieves is certainly ballsy. When you watch the ease with which he tells such a bald-faced lie, you have to wonder how this guy hasn’t already run for congress.

And surprisingly, this was the tame part of the story. You see, the next day it was reported by the Sheriff’s office (who had received calls from angry customers) that Nieves had closed up his business and disappeared overnight. Customers who were arriving back from their cruises that day waited for more than an hour for a shuttle to come before finally taking a cab to Premier Parking Spot. When they got there, they found the lot devoid of any employees, the keys to all the cars just left hanging in the doors of all the cars!

It was later discovered that Nieves had a long history of driving violations, domestic violence, and had even been busted in 1991 for smuggling a kilo of cocaine into the country. On top of all of that, it turns out that he hadn’t had a business license for Premier Parking Spot, apparently operating it off the books the whole time. This makes you wonder whose job it is to keep track of these things and making sure career criminals aren’t just setting up whatever kind of illegal business they want; lord knows the last thing Florida and the parking industry needs is more shady businessman of questionable ethics.

Since this all went down last spring, another, reputable parking operator has moved into the space and built a new facility there. Ironically, it was Premier Parking USA that bought the lot, an operator with facilities throughout Florida and the east coast. One has to wonder if they knew the history of the lot they bought and the name of it’s former occupant. With any luck, they’ll be able to overcome any justifiable prejudice cruise goers may have against the name; but just in case, I suggest they not joyride any of their cars, especially any shiny new Corvettes.

A big kudos goes to Jeff Deal and the WFTV News Team in Orlando for bringing this story to the light. You can see the full report they did below. Although these types of incidents are the exception to the rule, better to be safe than sorry, so always check to make sure you’re parking with a reputable company and take a look at their online reviews before you park.

Finally, I hope everyone has a safe and happy holiday season and a happy new year!

“Tragedy is a tool for the living to gain wisdom,not a guide by which to live” – RFK

Originally, I had a new piece ready for today about a corrupt parking operator in Port Canaveral. But then last Friday happened, and writing about some petty criminal just seemed inappropriate. To be honest, nothing feels “right” ever since Friday morning. So I’ll regale you all with stories of parking next week on Friday, but today I need to talk about what’s been going through my head ever since Friday morning.

There are many people in my life, both work and professional, that are proud, responsible gun owners, who use them for sport and pleasure. But the same could be said about cars, and yet no one sees that as a justification to stop requiring testing and licensing to drive a car. No one would argue that this basic system of regulation makes our roads and all of us safer. Does that eliminate all vehicle deaths? Of course not. But it does save a lot of lives. That is why I cannot for the life of me understand why we don’t do the same with firearms, why some say it’s not even appropriate to talk about that in the wake of a tragedy that could not have happened if firearms had not been readily available. On the same day that Adam Lanza murdered so many, a man in China tried to do the same, except because he could only gain access to a knife instead of a gun, no one died.

Preventing future incidents like this is not a simple matter. Gun control is not the sole solution to this problem (and it is an endemic problem here in the US, 15 of the 25 worst gun massacres in the world in the past 30 years were in the U.S., with Finland taking the number two spot at only 2 incidents), but it is one of them. Our failing schools and our outdated, underfunded mental healthcare system also share the blame and need to be examined and changed. But of all the factors involved, there is only one that empowers people to kill in an instant with just a twitch of the finger, only one that lets you turn life into an FPS video game. And in fact, in some states a 16 year old can’t buy an M rated video game, can’t see a rated R movie, can’t drink, can’t join the army, can’t vote . . . but CAN buy a concealed firearm with no permit; how is that a sane way of doing things in any way, shape or form?

I want to see all paths explored to prevent another Sandy Hook from happening in my lifetime. I’ve seen more of these massacres happen in the span of my life than my parents and grandparents saw combined in the time preceding it. I want to see reforms to our healthcare system so that people like Adam Lanza or Jared Loughner don’t fall through the cracks; I want to see our educators empowered to identify and help children with special issues long before their raging psychological problems have pushed them over the edge into becoming a monster; and I want to see a day when  it’s at least as hard to get a gun as it is to get a driver’s license or see an R-rated movie or join the army. How is any of that unreasonable? How is any of that challenging people’s rights? And yet, I cannot help but notice that many of the same voices that are saying we should be having a conversation about mental health instead of gun regulation are the same voices that argued against having a healthcare system that leaves less people falling through the cracks and a public education system that is robust and strong and nimble enough to meet the needs of our more troubled children. Something has to give, and despite my strong support of responsible gun ownership I cannot see any perspective from which making this country safer for our children and families isn’t worth having to go through a little more hassle to get a gun, or paying a little more in taxes so that there are less troubled, dangerous people spiraling down paths of self-destruction unaccounted for.

I know that this opinion will make me unpopular in some circles, but I’d rather risk being unpopular than risk someone else’s life. I rail against big government all the time in this blog, but this is one of those complicated issues that give purpose to government. This is why we form societies, why we have laws, so that we can ensure the peace and safety of as many people as possible. There is a role for government and for regulation, and this is one of them. Over the course of my life I have seen government checks on gun ownership weaken more and more, and subsequently have seen more and more acts of mass acts of violence and murder in that same time; why in God’s name would anyone be opposed to at least trying the reverse of that equation, one that has worked so well in virtually every other developed nation in the world, and seeing if stronger checks on gun ownership can reduce the number of tragedies we all see in our lifetimes?

My heart goes out to the community of Sandy Hook. I cannot fathom the depth of their pain and loss, and although it’s a bit selfish I hope I never do; in fact, I hope no one else ever does and that no one ever again has to experience this kind of tragedy. And I hope that as a nation, we can come together like we did after 9/11 and honor those lost by saying “Never again!” With that in mind, below is the list of lives lost last Friday. If I never see a list like this again in my lifetime it will be too soon. Those of you who pray, I ask that you pray for all of them and their families; those of you who don’t, I ask that you read their names and honor them both in memory and in deed. Never forget, never again.

Charlotte Bacon, 6

Daniel Barden, 7

Rachel Davino, 29

Olivia Engel, 6

Josephine Gay, 7

Ana M Marquez-Greene, 6

Dylan Hockley, 6

Dawn Hochsprung, 47

Madeline F. Hsu, 6

Catherine V. Hubbard, 6

Chase Kowalski, 7

Jesse Lewis, 6

James Mattioli, 6

Grace McDonnell, 7

Anne Marie Murphy, 52

Emilie Parker, 6

Jack Pinto, 6

Noah Pozner, 6

Caroline Previdi, 6

Jessica Rekos, 6

Avielle Richman, 6

Lauren Rousseau, 30

Mary Sherlach, 56

Victoria Soto, 27

Benjamin Wheeler, 6

Allison N Wyatt, 6

Car Hit With Over $100,000 In Chicago Parking Tickets | theexpiredmeter.com.

 

Holy crap! Amazing story by Mike Brockway, who is the expert on all things parking in the Chicago area. Check out his blog at http://theexpiredmeter.com/ for more interesting Windy City stories and to see why “local government” is synonymous with corruption there.

Look, I know most people revert back to the pre-historic lizard parts of their brain the moment someone says “SALE!” or “Black Friday” anywhere near them, but this is ridiculous. As the title of the blog says, it’s just parking! A parking spot is never, ever worth committing a felony or getting violent over. I am not a legal expert, but I can still guarantee you that ANY parking violation or ticket is less costly than a felony and is generally not going to get you jail time. My first instinct is to end this post with a “Let this be a lesson to you . . .” type of message, but frankly if you feel that you need to be ARMED when you go to WalMart then you’re probably not much into blogs and even if you were, you’ve got issues well beyond anything that can be solved by reading a paragraph online.

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Shooting over Wal-Mart parking spot leads to attempted murder charges

The AJC. Credible. Compelling. Complete.

By Fran Jeffries

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Two suspects face attempted murder charges after a shooting over a Wal-Mart parking space in Tallahassee.

Police say a disagreement over the parking space led to the shooting outside the store on Black Friday.

Earl White III and Tiffany Yancey face charges of attempted robbery with a firearm, attempted murder and possession of firearm by a convicted felon in connection with the store shooting.

Police said Yancey pointed a gun at a female, demanding “everything in your purse.” Police say White then shot the woman and a male passenger outside the store. According to a report in the Tallahassee Democrat, the two victims received non-life-threatening gunshot wounds.

The suspects fled, but were soon spotted south of Cairo, Ga. on Highway 111. Police pursued the suspects in a chase that reached speeds of 90 miles per hour. Police used spike strips, to slow the vehicle and sent it crashing into a guard rail, according to the Democrat.

The couple will be charged after being extradited to Florida, according to police.

via Shooting over Wal-Mart parking spot leads to attempted murder… | www.ajc.com.