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Police park in right spot for arrest

In serving an old warrant, officers recover 123 stolen meters at Cambridge man's apartment

Cambridge police displayed the stolen parking meters they recovered at a Cambridge residence. Thomas Gannon was arraigned on multiple charges. Cambridge police displayed the stolen parking meters they recovered at a Cambridge residence. Thomas Gannon was arraigned on multiple charges. (GEORGE RIZER/GLOBE STAFF)

"Cuttin' the heads off parkin' meters, Captain."

That's what landed Paul Newman's fictional character in prison in the 1967 film "Cool Hand Luke." Yesterday, in real life, police said that Thomas Gannon, 38, of Cambridge had cut the heads off 123 parking meters over the course of a year, emptying them of quarters and leaving them around his apartment like so much dirty laundry.

"This does seem to be odd," said Cambridge police Officer Frank Pasquarello as he stood yesterday in front of the recovered single- and double-headed parking meters, stacked in two piles in the basement of the Cambridge police headquarters. About 4 to 6 inches of steel pipe remained attached to the bottom of the meters, neatly cut.

Gannon was arraigned in Cambridge District Court and charged with receiving stolen property over $250 and breaking into a depository. He was held on $5,000 cash bail and faces a pretrial hearing Oct. 24. Assistant Middlesex District Attorney Kate Cimini said during the arraignment that Gannon's alleged thefts were worth more than $100,000.

The city's Department of Traffic and Parking had contacted police numerous times in the past year to report the theft of parking meters, and police had set up several surveillance operations, but were never able to catch anyone in the act.

Nabbing Gannon with the parking meters, Pasquarello said, was sheer luck. Police went to Gannon's second-floor apartment last Monday night to arrest him on an outstanding warrant from Malden District Court, in connection with a larceny in Everett last year.

According to court records, Detective Lieutenant Steven DeMarco and several other officers showed up at Gannon's door at 6:30 p.m.. Gannon answered, and DeMarco advised him of the arrest warrant, to which Gannon replied, "Oh, no problem." But after taking Gannon into custody, the police performed a "protective sweep" of the apartment. DeMarco encountered Gannon's girlfriend in the apartment, caring for a toddler. DeMarco then opened a closet door and noticed a stack of parking meters.

Authorities then found additional piles of meters, some in plain view and others covered by blankets. One officer even tripped on a pile of meters, according to court records. All of the meters still had tags designating street addresses. Most of the meters were taken from East Cambridge, and six were taken from Somerville, according to police. There were so many meters that at least a half-dozen police officers and other city workers spent an hour loading them into a truck. The double meters weigh about 50 pounds, more when loaded with quarters.

The meters were broken open like clam shells, and police recovered many of the plastic cylinders used to hold the coins. Authorities also found what they believe to be the tools that Gannon used to cut the meters off their posts: a grinder with a cutting tool attached, several broken pieces of drill bits, and worn blades, according to court records.

But by yesterday authorities had not recovered any significant amount of quarters from the apartment. They declined to speculate on how much money may have been in the meters or to say how much a single parking meter can hold.

Yesterday, several neighbors said they had never noticed any unusual activity at Gannon's address. Pasquarello said that, given the number of meters found inside the apartment, "we find it hard to believe that nobody noticed it."

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