Pennies from heaven? Parking meters, not banks, are where the money is at

Drivers hate them, but parking meters are feeling the love lately: from criminals.

I don't have hard numbers, so maybe it's just a lot of anecdotal evidence, but parking meters seem to increasingly be a popular way for a thief to steal money. Exhibit A: William J. Fell was recently arrested in Alexandria, Virginia, for stealing $170,000 in coins from parking meters.

Probably not too smart of a move for Fell, since he was a parking meter repairman. If you were a police officer investigating the case, wouldn't you first check out the people who had the access and know-how to steal from a parking meter?

Anyway, when police did find Fell, they found coins all over his house and paper money stored in zip-lock bags.

But Fell is just one of many stories out there, in recent months:In January, in Irvington, New Jersey, Rodney Dennis, 52, pleaded guilty to stealing more than $31,000 in nickels, dimes and quarters from city parking meters.

Last month, in Malvern, England
, thieves stole two parking meters -- took the entire meters and put them in their car -- and drove away. They made off with £900 and caused more than £2,000 damage.

And currently in Brisbane, Australia, authorities are investigating $80,000 worth of thievery that's gone on with parking meters. A gang apparently stole $8 a week from more than 2,000 city and suburban meters, which took some doing and dedication.

And it's probably worth pointing out that you don't have to steal from a parking meter to become a criminal. It's illegal to deface or destroy a parking meter. Not that you needed me to tell you that, but it's a nice transition into mentioning that the city of Chicago recently sold its parking meters to a private company for $1.2 billion, and parking rates have since shot up considerably.

That's believed to be why in recent weeks, parking meters have been abused mightily. People have dumped paint on them, slathered tape all over them, jammed them with pennies, poured super glue all over the coin slot. One person set a meter on fire, and another was taken away by the police for pounding the meter with a concrete block.

Geoff Williams is a regular contributor to WalletPop and is still grateful to one of Cincinnati's finest who, several years ago, agreed to rip up a ticket and let him go with a warning after he implored and insisted that parking on a Sunday afternoon was free.
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