A 55-year-old woman and her boyfriend are suspected of swiping more than $65,000 in coins from parking meters in Fort Lauderdale, and possibly from other cities as well, police said.
Linda Hay, of Fort Lauderdale, was charged with grand theft and was being held at the Paul Rein Detention Facility on $5,000 bail Wednesday.
Hay and her boyfriend, Robert Gallaher, 49, who is wanted in the case, are believed to have fabricated a tool to pry parking meters open, Fort Lauderdale Detective DeAnna Garcia said.
"It wasn't like it was one parking lot they targeted," she said, "They were breaking into meters throughout the city. They were definitely mobile. Who knows? Maybe there are other victims."
Garcia said neighboring cities have been notified in case the pair also struck there.
According to a police report, the duo stole approximately $40,000 from meters throughout the city between Jan. 4 and July 31. Last year, they took in $27,000 from the meters, police said.
The city's Parking Services employees noticed an exorbitant loss in revenue to the city during this time and contacted police. Tips led detectives to Hay and Gallaher, Garcia said.
The city takes in about $14 million a year from its 11,000 metered parking spaces located citywide in garages, surface lots and on streets, said Matt Little, a spokesman for the city of Fort Lauderdale.
With parking meter theft "very common" nationwide, Little said the city has taken steps to thwart meter thieves.
It has increased the frequency of collections to minimize the amount of money stored in meters, Little said. The introduction of pay-by-phone meter services also helps because it eliminates the need for customers to use currency and coins.
Many lots are also served by multi-space meters, which accept credit cards and ATM cards, he said.
Hay turned herself into Fort Lauderdale police Tuesday and confessed to being a lookout while Gallaher broke into the meters, police said.
Gallaher, meanwhile, is believed to be traveling to Louisiana, police said.
During Hay's first appearance in court Wednesday, Broward County Judge John "Jay" Hurley said police "finally allegedly caught up with the parking meter crew."
"You admitted to it that you had been the lookout. You were getting $400 to $700 a week" Hurley told Hay. "Your boyfriend was using a skeleton key, I believe, to pop open the meters."
Police urge anyone with information on Gallaher's whereabouts to contact Detective Luan Malushi at 954-828-6357 or Broward Crime Stoppers at 954-493-8477.
Staff Writer Tonya Alanez contributed to this report.