For at least the second time in two months, the police pulled over two men transporting heavy metal taken from public places. This time, though, the cargo was not manhole covers from the Bronx, but iron grates that had been protecting trees in Midtown Manhattan.
The police said a uniformed lieutenant from the Midtown North precinct stopped a 1996 Ford van just before 4 a.m. on Wednesday because its brake lights were not working. Inside the van, the officer spotted three grates that, they said later, had been taken from 48th Street near 10th Avenue.
The police had been investigating a report that 44 grates had been taken a few blocks away on 46th Street between 8th and 10th Avenues. Restaurant owners along that street said that men wearing reflective vests had been taking the heavy grates before sunrise.
The man in the van’s front passenger seat, Horace Jacobs, was wearing a reflective vest that belonged to the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, said Detective Cheryl Crispin, a police spokeswoman said. She said that Mr. Jacobs, 35, of Manhattan, and the driver were arrested and charged with criminal possession of stolen property, grand larceny — both felonies — and possession of burglary tools.
Mr. Jacobs, who is not a Transportation Authority employee, was also charged with misdemeanor possession of stolen property.
The driver, Robert Deloach, 31, of the Bronx, was also charged with driving without a license. He later admitted that he had taken as many as 15 iron grates from West 46th Street and was arrested again for felony possession of stolen property and grand larceny, Detective Crispin said.
The disappearance of the grates had befuddled some business operators along Restaurant Row, as West 46th Street is known, because the grates had been in place for decades, said Laura Maioglio, whose father opened the restaurant Barbetta in 1906.
“They’re extremely heavy,” Ms. Maioglio said of the grates. “They have to be replaced as soon as possible because there’s a risk of people falling” after tripping in the pits cut into the sidewalk for the trees, she said.
The arrests came several weeks after the police arrested two men from Massachusetts who had several large iron covers that they were suspected of removing from manholes in the streets of the Bronx. Last week, Consolidated Edison, the electric utility, said that more than 30 of its manhole covers had disappeared since March from the streets of the Bronx, Brooklyn and Queens.