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Former Caltrain manager charged after allegedly building secret apartments inside train stations

A former Caltrain manager and a contractor are accused of using thousands of dollars in taxpayer money to build their own personal apartments inside two stations.

The first apartment was built in 2019 inside the historic Burlingame Caltrain Station. While the other was built in Millbrae.

Neither facility is being used by the public, which is how they went unnoticed for so long. It’s a crime that baffles San Mateo County District Attorney Steve Wagstaffe.

“There’s no explanation for what they did other than they took advantage of a situation and used our taxpayer’s dollars to do it,” he said.

Joe Navarro, formerly Caltrain’s deputy director of operations and Seth Worden, a contractor working as a station manager, are accused of spending $50,000 in taxpayer money to illegally convert closed-down Caltrain offices into their private homes, complete with showers, heating and security cameras.

“Particularly the one in Burlingame, they did the nicest job on. They spent $42,000 to put in a shower, a bed, a kitchenette and basically made it a mini apartment,” Wagstaffe said.

The San Mateo County District Attorney’s Office declined to share photos of the two apartments.

Both men had homes of their own, yet Worden lived in Millbrae’s station between 2019 and 2020. He was eventually discovered during a station inspection and was promptly fired, according to the DA’s office.

Navarro allegedly renovated and occupied the Burlingame station between 2019 and 2022, when an anonymous caller tipped off Caltrain. The transportation agency said then reported the matter to the DA’s office last May.

The two men are accused of working together on the illegal homes. Worden hired contractors to do the remodels and Navarro approved the expenses. The invoices were small enough not to raise alarms, according to the San Mateo County District Attorney’s Office.

“Because Mr. Navarro was in the management of Caltrain and their rules were that any invoice under $3,000 does not require higher approval, Mr. Navarro could approve it and that’s what they did,” Wagstaffe said.

Worden was arraigned in San Mateo Superior Court Wednesday and pled not guilty. Navarro is due to be arraigned at the end of April. The charges come with maximum sentences of five years in state prison.

Worden’s attorney sent NBC Bay Area the following statement on Friday:

“I can tell you that my client is very remorseful for his role. I can further tell you that my initial sense of the case suggests that his participation would not suggest a felony prosecution appropriate. Again, I anticipate receiving the discovery in the coming days, and can glean a better context for his role in the case.”

Caltrain Executive Director Michelle Bouchard also released the following statement Friday:

“The misuse of public funds for private use is a violation of the law, Caltrain policy and the public’s trust. Caltrain investigates every claim of such misconduct, and in cases where there is evidence of unlawful conduct by an employee or a contractor, we immediately act to rectify the situation and hold the individuals who are responsible accountable.

Mr. Worden, who was arraigned yesterday, is a former employee of TASI, a contractor to Caltrain. He and former Caltrain employee Joe Navarro, who will be arraigned in April, both face charges related to misuse of public funds. The two are accused of working together to misuse public resources for personal gain.

After receiving an anonymous tip and conducting an internal review, we discovered potential evidence of Mr. Navarro’s misuse of public resources and we referred the matter to the San Mateo County District Attorney’s Office for further investigation and potential charges. We appreciate the District Attorney’s diligent work in this investigation, and we will continue to provide any additional information or support needed to further the District Attorney’s efforts.”

Source: NBC Bay Area

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