A conductor on one of San Francisco's historic cable cars is behind bars Thursday, after officials say a two-month-long investigation revealed that the man had been swiping the cash fares paid by riders.
In a statement sent to media, the San Francisco Police Department says that their Muni Task force was contacted by the Municipal Transportation Agency regarding an alleged fare theft scheme "approximately two months ago."
Following an investigation, police say that they "identified one of the suspects in the case as 61 year-old Napa County resident Albert Williams," a cable car conductor who District Attorney George Gascon says was "stealing cash he collected from cable car riders."
Williams was arrested Wednesday in San Francisco, police say. He was booked into San Francisco County Jail "on felony charges of misappropriation of public money and embezzlement," according to the DA's office.
According to the District Attorney's office, Williams was "responsible for accepting cash fares from riders, issuing receipts, and turning in the collected fares at the end of each shift. An extensive investigation revealed that during his shifts, Williams used various schemes to hide the true amount of cash he collected, allowing him to pocket hundreds of dollars in cash a month from cable car riders," as a one-way cable car ride currently costs $7.
When asked how long Williams had allegedly been stealing from riders by the Ex, a DA's spokesperson would only say that “this is an ongoing investigation.”
"The suspect's conduct represents a violation of public trust," SFPD Chief William Scott said via press release Wednesday evening.
"Our investigators moved quickly to gather evidence and build an extensive case to present to the District Attorney's Office."
"Employees entrusted with collecting public money are expected to carry out their responsibilities with integrity," Gascón said via written statement. "Stealing money from public agencies, whatever the amount, will be met with consequences."
Of course, this isn't the first time cable car operators have faced such allegations. In a January, 2006 report, the Chron writes that then-Mayor Gavin Newsom said "I am convinced, based on my own personal experience, (the money) is not going to Muni, but it's going in the pockets of some of our well-meaning operators."
When asked about Newsom's allegations, one cable car operator responded at the time "Why would you steal? We make a decent living. Why would anyone jeopardize their job?"
Just a few months before that, in March of 2005, the Chron reports that cable car service screeched to a 2.5 hour halt after two gripmen were fired for allegedly stealing fares. (You can read the backstory on that case here, it's quite interesting!)
Despite these persistent woes, SFMTA Director of Transportation Ed Reiskin took an upbeat tone in a written statement sent late Wednesday. "The vast majority of the men and women of the Cable Car Division are exceptional at what they do, are hard-working, and are honest people," Reiskin said.
However, it appears the SFMTA worries that they might be placing too much temptation in these honest folks' paths. According to Reiskin, "Going forward we will immediately enhance management and oversight of our cash fare transactions and will explore long-term options such as eventually removing cash as an on-board payment option for our cable car system."
As for today's case, the SFPD says they won't be releasing a booking photo for Williams, who remains in custody this morning, a Sheriff's Department spokesperson confirms. According to Bay City News, his bail has been set at $50,000.