Two former Mass Transit Administration employees were placed on probation yesterday for their roles in the theft of an estimated $500,000 from bus fare boxes.
Arvelle C. Cole, 43, and Bettie McKnight, 47, were convicted last month of conspiracy in connection with the thefts, which MTA officials say began in July 1989 when a cash box skeleton key was stolen. Cole, an 18-year employee who had worked as a "vault puller" responsible for removing the fare boxes, was also convicted of felony theft after the six-day jury trial.
Baltimore Circuit Court Judge Paul A. Smith yesterday granted Cole probation before judgment, which will allow the West Baltimore man's conviction to be erased if he successfully completes the terms of probation. McKnight, also of West Baltimore, was also given the opportunity to receive probation before judgment, but her lawyer, Howard L. Cardin, asked the judge to instead issue a suspended sentence. Mr. Cardin said the woman intends to appeal her conviction, a right she would have to give up if accepting probation before judgment.
Judge Smith gave McKnight, who had worked as a security guard, a six-month suspended sentence.
The judge placed Cole and McKnight on five years' supervised probation and ordered them to perform 200 hours of community service. Both were ordered to pay more than $1,000 in court costs.
Cole, who continued to deny taking any of the money, was also ordered to pay $10,000 in restitution. MTA officials say about $500,000 in daily bus receipts was reported missing between the time the key was stolen and April 1991. These officials laid about $27,000 in losses to the work of Coles and McKnight between March 3 and April 19 of last year, the period covered in the criminal charges against the two.
The judge said McKnight should also pay $10,000 in restitution to the MTA, but Mr. Cardin questioned whether restitution can be ordered for someone convicted only of conspiracy. Judge Smith said he would decide the issue later.
One other defendant in the trial, which featured nine hours of videotapes in which the employees were seen behaving suspiciously at the cash "drop site," was previously granted probation before judgment. A fourth defendant was acquitted by the jury.