By Ivan Pereira
Just in time for the holidays, the authorities said they had arrested 18 people in a crackdown designed to round up unlicensed drivers who scam unsuspecting tourists arriving in New York at the two Queens airports.
Four borough residents were among the arrested individuals in the joint investigation conducted by the Queens district attorney’s office, Port Authority and city Taxi & Limousine Commission, Queens DA Richard Brown said.
The defendants allegedly offered tourists illegal rides from LaGuardia and John F. Kennedy International airports to other parts of the city and overcharged them, according to Brown.
“Each year more than 70 million passengers travel through JFK and LaGuardia airports — many of whom are visitors from other states and countries and are unaware of ground transportation options when they arrive at the terminal,” he said in a statement.
“Often these passengers are unfamiliar with New York prices and/or U.S. currency and, as a result, are charged exorbitant rates to be driven even the shortest of distances,” he said.
The defendants were arrested Monday night and arraigned on various charges for their illegal actions. The suspects allegedly charged anywhere from $25 to $80 for their illegal chauffeur services despite warnings from airport officials, according to Brown.
The arrests came one month after the governor signed a new law that mandates that anyone found guilty of illegally picking up tourists would be punished with 90 days in prison.
“With the new law in place, our enforcement has increased and taxi hustlers should be forewarned: This is the end of the road,” PA Chairman Anthony Coscia said.
Four Queens men were part of the scheme and allegedly picked up JFK passengers illegally, Brown said.
Eduin G. Castro, 45, of 25th Avenue in College Point; Albin A. Duran, 28, of Stephen Street in Ridgewood; Earl C. Govan of Horace Harding Boulevard in Corona; and Debray R. Nunez, 38, of Hoover Avenue in Jamaica were arraigned on several charges, including unlawful solicitation of ground transportation.
The arrests came months after five French tourists were taken for a ride by similar suspected unlicensed drivers who picked them up at JFK. The driver and his alleged accomplice were chased by the authorities for seven miles into Brooklyn with the tourists in the back seat before they were caught.
Reach reporter Ivan Pereira by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 718-229-0300, Ext. 146.