By Courtney Dentch
Sixteen Amtrak workers, including four Queens residents, were arrested after allegedly using lost credit cards to charge over $100,000 in telephone calls, the Queens district attorney said.
The workers, who clean and maintain Amtrak cars in the Sunnyside Rail Yard, are charged with making thousands of unauthorized personal calls on the “Railfones” installed in the cars and using credit cards found in wallets and purses left by passengers to pay for the calls, said DA Richard Brown.
The defendants allegedly used more than 70 credit cards to rack up more than 47,000 minutes worth of calls, some to as far away as Haiti, Guyana, and South America, Brown said.
Among the accused are one worker from Jamaica, another from Flushing and two from Laurelton, the DA said.
The employees are facing various charges, including grand larceny in the second and fourth degrees, scheme to defraud, criminal possession of stolen property, and theft of service. Some of the defendants could face up to 15 years in prison if convicted.
“[The defendants] are accused of betraying Amtrak’s passengers, who lost or accidentally left behind their personal belongings, by using the passengers’ credit and calling cards for their own benefit,” Brown said. “Now they face substantial prison sentences.”
Amtrak declined to comment on the case, saying the investigation was still ongoing, said spokeswoman Karen Dunn.
The investigation began when a GTE audit found a high incidence of fraudulent telephone calls within a section of the company’s cellular network, which includes the Sunnyside Rail Yard and the Railfones, Brown said.
The investigation found that most of the calls were made while employees were supposed to be working. As a result, Brown said, Amtrak lost almost 100 eight-hour work days, or $15,225 worth of work time from October 1997 to August 2000.
Four of the defendants, including a foreman and three coach cleaners, are Queens residents. Gloria Young, of Jamaica, and Francisco Colon, of Flushing, are accused of making the most calls and could face the stiffest penalties, the DA said. Colon allegedly racked up $19,764 worth of charges on 1,264 calls, while Young allegedly made 311 calls valued at $1,162, Brown said.
Also from Queens are coach cleaners Edwine Alcius, 31, of 138-30 232nd St., in Laurelton, and Jasmin Perez, 36, of 3236 102nd St., in East Elmhurst. They are both charged with second-degree grand larceny and could also face up to 15 years in jail, said Meris Campbell, a spokeswoman for Brown’s office.
All four were arraigned last week, Campbell said. Young, Alcius, and Perez were released into their own custody, while Colon paid a bail of $15,000. The four, along with the other 12 defendants, are scheduled to return to court on March 6, Campbell said.
Although Amtrak already requires employees to return passengers’ belongings to management or the police, Dunn said the policy may be re-evaluated.
“I’m sure as a result of the investigation the procedures and regulations will be looked at,” she said. “I couldn’t say now if actions will be taken.”
Reach reporter Courtney Dentch by e-mail at Timesledgr@aol.com or call 229-0300, Ext. 138.