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They allegedly built their little homes inside train stations. Now they face felonies

A Spanish-style train station with "BURLINGAME" on the facade, beside a platform and tracks, under a clear sky.
The Caltrain station in Burlingame is one of two places where prosecutors say unauthorized homes were built using public funds. | Source: Google Street View

A kitchenette. A shower. A bed.

These were just some of the amenities investigators discovered inside a historic train station in Burlingame while following up on an anonymous tip.

The information would ultimately lead the San Mateo County District Attorney’s Office to conclude that a then-Caltrain official, Joe Navarro, had worked together with a contractor, Seth Worden, to build himself a place to live inside the train station—and cut down on his work commute.

“It was rather nicely done,” said San Mateo County District Attorney Steve Wagstaffe. “It sure beats living in the back seat of your car.”

As it turned out, Worden had virtually done the same thing for himself just up the line at another train station in Millbrae, prosecutors allege. Both men now face felony charges for allegedly misspending a combined $50,000 in taxpayer funds on their own little train station homes.

“They figured the Bay Area [commute] really is lousy,” Wagstaffe said. “It was a convenience.”

Navarro, 66, was a deputy director of operations for Caltrain who worked out of a nearby office building in San Carlos. He was fired after admitting to occasionally living at the station, prosecutors said.

He earned nearly $235,000 in base pay as well as more than $95,000 in other pay and benefits in 2021, according to the most recent salary data available from the website Transparent California.

Worden, 61, was a station manager employed by TransAmerica Services Inc. Worden had already been fired by the time investigators got wind of Navarro’s residence inside the Burlingame station.

The scheme began to unravel in 2022 when an anonymous tipster reported to Caltrain that Navarro was living at its station in Burlingame, according to court records and a summary of the case released by prosecutors.

Beginning in 2019, prosecutors said Navarro directed Worden to hire contractors to convert an office at the station into a personal residence by adding a kitchen, shower, heating, plumbing and security cameras.

To help cloak the scheme, prosecutors said Worden kept the invoices for the job under $3,000 so Navarro could approve them on his own.

Wagstaffe described the $42,000 conversion as a “nice little mini-unit.”

“It looked nice,” Wagstaffe said. “It had everything you needed.”

While Navarro initially had a home in Southern California, Wagstaffe said he ended up living at the station practically full time. Navarro worked just down the way out of the Caltrain office in San Carlos, he said.

“Navarro was basically making it his home,” Wagstaffe said. “We believe he was spending almost all his time up here.”

He now lives in Newtown, Pennsylvania.

Worden was terminated after Caltrain employees learned in 2020 that he had misused $8,000 in public funds to make himself a residence inside the train station in Millbrae, where he lived part time, prosecutors said.

He currently resides in Southern California.

Wagstaffe said his investigators began looking into the scheme in May 2023 when Caltrain brought the case to his office.

He said they did not find evidence that the contractors Worden hired to build the units knew the work was unauthorized.

Attempts to reach Navarro and Worden for comment were not successful.

Jeff Hayden, an attorney for Worden, did not immediately return a message seeking comment.

Navarro is facing one felony count of misusing public funds, while Worden is facing two counts of the same charge. Navarro and Worden are also facing enhancements for allegedly concealing the scheme.

Both men are due in court on April 29.