N.Y. transit officials baffled by purchase of 12,000 tokens--with stolen check

March 24, 1991|By New York Times News Service

NEW YORK -- The New York subway system holds many mysteries. How much will the fare go up? Why does the public-address system never seem to work? How do you stop fare-beating?

And here is a really hard one: How did a well-dressed couple persuade a token clerk to let them buy 12,000 tokens with a stolen cashier's check?

In a bizarre larceny case last month that has baffled transit officials, a man and a woman, saying they wanted to buy a lot of subway tokens for employees of a corporation, persuaded a token clerk to give them $16,000 worth of tokens and cash in exchange for the check.

The officials said they were puzzled because the Transit Authority rarely dispenses such large amounts of tokens from a subway booth. Typically, customers who want to buy more than $50 worth must get them from the authority's headquarters on Jay Street in Brooklyn. The officials said another token clerk was apparently an accomplice.

Transit police gave this account: On Feb. 13 a token clerk at the subway station at 14th Street and the Avenue of the Americas received a telephone call from someone claiming to be a supervisor. The caller told the clerk that a man and a woman would soon arrive at the booth to buy $16,000 worth of tokens and that the clerk should accept the check.

In a few minutes, another token clerk, Keith Lewis, came to the booth and asked to use the telephone there. While Mr. Lewis was on the phone, the thieves, in business wear, showed up and presented the check to the clerk who had received the call.

The clerk asked Mr. Lewis if the check looked valid, and he told her that it did.

The clerk accepted the check and gave the man and the woman all the tokens in the booth, $13,800 worth, plus $2,200 in cash, mainly $20 bills.

Mr. Lewis was arrested last month after the Transit Authority learned that its bank would not honor the stolen check. He was charged with obstructing government administration and signing and preparing a false document and has been suspended while an investigation proceeds, the authority said.

Transit officials believe that the clerk who dispensed the tokens and cash was an innocent victim.

Mr. Lewis does not have a listed telephone number and could not be reached for comment.

A transit police spokesman, Robert Valentino, said detectives were close to making more arrests.

It could not be learned how the thieves carried the 12,000 tokens out of the subway station.

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