Yesterday New York's highest court upheld the felony forgery conviction of a man who was arrested in 2005 for "selling swipes" to subway riders using MetroCards altered with a simple bending technique. How simple? Well, Judge Victoria A. Graffeo tells you pretty much exactly how to do it in the 12-page decision [pdf], which explains how defendant Jonathan Mattocks would bend discarded MetroCards in such a way that the turnstile computers were unable to read one of two magnetic fields on the cards, resulting in a "free" ride.
Mattocks (not pictured), who was arrested in 2005 and had a number of transit system priors, has done two years in jail and been released while his appeal wound its way through the courts, the Daily News reports. (While he was being booked, Mattocks warned officers that he would be out of jail in three months, and suggested they "should just shoot me in the head, because I'm going to kill you.") His lawyers had futilely argued that his crime was a misdemeanor, not a felony, because "the damage does not create value on a worthless card, it merely prevents the turnstile computer from determining that the card has no value."
As of 2005, fraudulent MetroCard use was costing the MTA approximately $16 million per year. Since then, NYC Transit has tinkered with the turnstile computers to make card-bending less effective, but a spokesman tells the Times there were almost 250,000 instances last year of invalid cards being used to gain free rides. At least it's still better than the old days of token sucking. For the uninitiated, token sucking, according to this 2003 Tunnel Vision article, involved jamming the token slot with a matchbook or a gum wrapper, then waiting for a would-be rider to deposit a token, slam against the locked turnstile, and walk away.
Then from the shadows, the token sucker appears like a vampire, quickly sealing his lips over the token slot, inhaling powerfully and producing his prize: a $1.50 token, hard earned and obviously badly needed... In an interview with a reporter for The Los Angeles Times in the early 1990s, one token sucker acknowledged the depths of his desperation. ''Hard times makes you do it,'' he explained, adding: ''Anyways, I've kissed women that's worse.''