I must admit it was creatively illegal but who even thinks about stealing quarters from a parking meter collection room?

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I've heard of crimes of opportunity but what made a Hawthorne, New Jersey man think he would get away with this?

The Associated Press reported that Thomas Rica, 43, the former public works inspector for the Village of Ridgewood, New Jersey, admitted stealing $460,000 in quarters.

Rica pleaded guilty today to four counts of theft and, because of the plea, prosecutors will recommend that he receive five years' probation and pay about $200,000 in restitution to Ridgewood.

Rica was employed by the Village of Ridgewood but lost his job a year ago in January after he was caught taking $500 in quarters from the village's parking meter collection room.

Apparently, after some investigation, police learned that was just the tip of the iceberg and that he had been regularly stealing quarters from that room for just over two years.

See, he would walk in there -- despite the fact that he had no business being in that room -- and fill his pockets with quarters and walk out. He also deposited all the quarters in his bank account -- all 1.8 million quarters.

Now tell me, if you were a bank teller, wouldn't you get suspicious after a while. And if a teller asked, what could have been his explanation?

To draw a comparison, a woman who regularly deposits copious amounts of single dollar bills might be looked at as someone who is tipped with single dollar bills at her place of employment. But can you think of any employment where you are paid with just quarters?

OK, maybe you do a lot of gambling at slot machines and your winnings can be in quarters but that wouldn't explain almost two years worth of regular deposits of quarters, as no one can win that much.

Personally, like a longtime friend of mine, gambling and casinos hold no allure for me but I do buy lottery tickets from time to time. Wish I had bought the Mega Millions ticket at the Sunoco gas station on Merritt Island in Florida for last night's drawing. But I digress.

I have to say this likely started out as a crime of opportunity in the first place for Rica. It doesn't sound like he woke up one day and said to himself, "I think I'll go grab some free money in the meter collection room."

But why just quarters?

I went to the Village of Ridgewood website and checked out the parking section and found that public parking in that village of about 25,000 is collected at 25 cents an hour (except the Rte 17 Park and Ride, which is 50 cents an hour). That would likely account for most of the stolen money being quarters.

From the pictures on the website it looks like a lovely village. I am sure people were surprised to have a thief in their midst. The circumstances remind me of an exchange in the 1988 movie "Die Hard" between hostage Holly Gennero McClane and German terrorist Hans Gruber.

Holly: "After all your posturing, all your little speeches, you're nothing but a common thief."

Gruber: "I am an exceptional thief, Mrs. McClane. And since I'm moving up to kidnapping, you should be more polite."

While I wouldn't call Rica "exceptional" he was creative. However, I think probation is a bit lenient and he should spend some time in jail thinking about what he did.

Follow me on Twitter @Kim Wendel

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