The Great Train Heist

Article by Janet Seiberg for Behind the Bar, a column appearing in the January 18, 1993 issue of The Connecticut Law Tribune.

Even the thieves in “The Great Train Robbery” never pulled off a railroad heist as skillfully as New Haven’s Cahill & DiPersia.

The firm’s three partners struck twice this month, first seizing Metro-North commuter train and then hitting an Amtrak locomotive. Unlike their fictional counterparts, however, these modern-day robbers were acting under court orders.

The pair began their raid at 3:20 p.m. at Metro-North’s claims office in New Haven’s Union Station. After several minutes of occasionally loud argument, the sheriff, and partner, George Cahill, took off to find a train. A Metro-North police officer and claims officer Jack McGovern, who had a look of incredulity plastered on his face, followed.

The sheriff appeared determined to find a working train, saying he wanted something he could auction off for a lot of money. The group began examining trains in the yard, but maintenance workers told them those cars were broken. The sheriff then decided to take the only train in the station, #1575, which was scheduled to leave in four minutes for New York.

When a claims officer tried to object, the police officer jumped in. He got on the radio and informed trainmaster Joe Kanell that a sheriff had seized the train. “They can’t do that,” Kanell could be heard responding. The cop said the sheriff could–and was.

The Sheriff began hanging signs on the train saying it was against the law for anyone to touch or move the seized property. The Metro-North police officer began ringing the train in yellow “police crime scene” tape, and train officials ordered all the passengers off the train and boarded a new train that had just arrived in the station from New York.

The great train seizure might have ended then if claims agent Gene Romanik had not appeared. He immediately confronted the sheriff and said the train was going to leave the station. If the sheriff wanted to arrest him, then so be it.

Nevas ruled that the writ was perfectly legal. He also blasted the railroad, saying their poor handling of these types of cases cost the taxpayers of New York and Connecticut millions of dollars.

“The railroad’s position is consistently unreasonable,” Nevas said in court. Their evaluations of the cases are very, very low. Their expectation as to what they think these cases are worth are unrealistic, and this is a perfect example.” Nevas, however, did ask to wait until 3:00 p.m. to seize the cars to give Metro-North time to pay. It ended up delivering a check to the sheriff that afternoon.

At that point, it appeared that Cahill, & DiPersia’s train-grabbing days were over. But that was not to be the case. The very next day, Cahill seized an Amtrak locomotive. He acted after a client, a former Amtrak ticket agent who was brutally attacked in the Hartford station’s parking lot, became frustrated with the railroad’s failure to pay a $1.75 million judgment. Cahill says that if Amtrak fails to pay soon, he will seize a second engine and auction them both off.

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