Cable car operator pleads not guilty to embezzlement

A San Francisco cable car operator accused of pocketing cash fares paid by riders pleaded not guilty Thursday to felony charges.

Albert Williams, a 61-year-old American Canyon resident, made his first appearance in San Francisco Superior Court this afternoon following his arrest Wednesday on charges of felony misappropriation of public money and embezzlement.

Williams was arrested after a two-month investigation that indicated he was using various means to under report the amount of cash fares he collected from riders.

Williams is currently accused of taking only $919, but prosecutors indicated that amount could increase as the investigation continues.

Assistant District Attorney Stephanie Lee today said a search of Williams’ home found at least $32,000 in cash in a safe and multiple receipts for luxury items.

In addition, a review of the cash fares Williams has reported over the past five years found similarly low totals compared to other operators on the same route and shifts, Lee said.

Judge Sharon Reardon set bail at $50,000, lower than the $75,000 requested by prosecutors.

While Deputy Public Defender Michelle Tong argued for Williams to be released on his own recognizance, Reardon noted that Williams is accused of an abuse of his position and has multiple prior arrests and misdemeanor convictions, most of them theft related.

A Muni spokeswoman today said the agency was working to place Williams on administrative leave and conduct the internal investigation needed before the agency can fire an employee.

Ed Reiskin, director of transportation for the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency, said Wednesday in a statement that the agency had contacted law enforcement as soon as it learned of improper activity:

“Going forward we will immediately enhance management and oversight of our cash fare transactions and will explore long-term options such as eventually removing cash as an on-board payment option for our cable car system.”

Williams remained in custody as of this afternoon, and was ordered to return to court on May 8.