DA: They Charged JFK Hacks To Skip Lines
Sixteen airport taxi dispatchers employed by Port Authority of New York and New Jersey subcontractor Gateway Group One Frontline Services have been arrested in an undercover “sting” operation and charged with unlawfully receiving cash bribes in a taxi-dispatching scheme at John F. Kennedy International Airport.
According to the criminal charges, between December 2012 and February 2014, the dispatchers are alleged to have accepted cash payments of ten dollars to allow undercover taxi drivers to skip long lines in the central taxi holding area and instead go directly to the terminals to pick up passengers, despite the fact that the drivers had not waited in the central taxi holding area nor possessed a shorty ticket.
The 16 defendants were charged with second-degree commercial bribe receiving, official misconduct and receiving unlawful gratuities, each of which is a Class A misdemeanor punishable by up to one year in jail.
They were identified as Franklin Andrews, 36, of Chauncey Street in Brooklyn; Jessica Augilla, 24, of Humboldt Street in Brooklyn; Duwayne Bayliss, 34, of 161st Street in Jamaica; Kevin Dean, 52, of 166th Street in Jamaica; Ana Hernandez, 33, of Flushing Avenue in Brooklyn; Lennox Ifill, 62, of 179th Place in Jamaica; Jahreme Joefield, 33, of 172nd Street in Jamaica; Jean Legerme, 30, of Flatlands Avenue in Brooklyn; Rasheeda Lewis-Gordon, 37, of Wyona Street in Brooklyn; Andrew Mayers, 60, of East 35th Street in Brooklyn; Jaccain Montauban, 30, of 87th Drive in Jamaica; Keisa Munroe, 36, of Bouck Avenue in the Bronx; Wag Yum Ng, 56, of 201st Street in Bayside; Steffany Persaud, 23, of East 34th Street in Brooklyn; Manuel Roman, 31, of Georgia Avenue in Brooklyn; and Natasha Stoute, 30, of Chandler Street in Far Rockaway.
“The defendants are alleged to have accepted bribes in the form of cash payments to rig the airport taxi dispatching system at JFK Airport. The bribery scam allegedly allowed taxi drivers to basically ‘cut the line’ and get ahead of honest drivers waiting their turn for passengers,” Queens District Attorney Richard A. Brown said. “Though the alleged bribes paid each time amounted to only a few dollars, on busy days, thousands of cabs pass through JFK’s terminals during an eight-hour shift – giving a dishonest dispatcher the opportunity to illegally make hundreds of dollars on a daily basis.”
“These defendants sold out their position of public trust and chose to line their pockets and enrich themselves,” added Port Authority Inspector General Robert E. Van Etten. “The defendants took unfair advantage of a dispatching process that was created to provide a level playing field for all cab drivers. The Port Authority Office of the Inspector General and its law enforcement partners will aggressively identify, investigate and bring to justice those who breach their position of public trust and corrupt the integrity of the transportation industry.”
Airport taxi dispatchers regulate the movement of taxis from a central taxi holding area to a terminal taxi pick up area. The average wait in the holding area is approximately two to three hours, after which time the taxis are summoned as needed for incoming flights from the holding area to terminal pick-up in the order that they arrived.
Upon exiting the holding lot, each taxi driver is issued a “dispatch ticket,” on which is printed the taxi’s medallion number, as well as the date and time of their exiting the holding area.
In addition, when a terminal dispatcher gives a medallion taxi driver a “local fare-a fare to a destination close to the airport, such as Brooklyn, Queens and the Five Towns area of Nassau County-the driver qualifies for, and is given a Short Haul, or “shorty,” ticket, which allows the driver to bypass the central holding area and go directly to the terminal pick-up area for his next fare. Taxi drivers are not allowed to pay for shorty tickets and the dispatchers are not permitted to sell them.
Reportedly, the alleged taxi dispatcher scheme was uncovered in December 2012 when the Port Authority Inspector General’s Office received an anonymous call alleging that taxi dispatchers at JFK Airport were permitting taxi drivers to respond to airport terminals without waiting in the central taxi holding lot.
After a preliminary review, the Inspector General’s Office and the Queens District Attorney’s Airport Investigations Unit launched an investigation, which included the use of confidential informants and electronic surveillance to substantiate the alleged illegal activity.
During the course of the investigation, Gateway Frontline Services-the Port Authority subcontractor, which employs the dispatchers – in coordination with the Port Authority, developed a wireless, Internet-based taxi-dispatching system that utilizes radio frequency identification decals (RFID) technology to track, in real time, the movement of taxis at the airports in order to dispatch them more quickly and efficiently.
The system prevents the exploitation of vulnerabilities utilized previously by the taxi dispatchers to circumvent the taxi hold and dispatch process.
The investigation was conducted by Det. Steve Poulos and Police Investigator Arthur Maisano of the Port Authority Inspector General’s Office, under the supervision of Michael Nestor, director of investigations and Salvatore Dalessandro, assistant director of investigations.
Brown and Van Etten expressed their appreciation to the city Taxi and Limousine Commission for its support and assistance throughout the investigation.
Assistant District Attorneys Catherine C. Kane, chief of the District Attorney’s Airport Investigations Unit, and Hana Kim are prosecuting the cases under the supervision of Assistant District Attorney Gerard A. Brave, chief of the District Attorney’s Organized Crime and Rackets Bureau, and Assistant District Attorney Mark Katz, deputy chief, and under the overall supervision of Executive Assistant District Attorney for Investigations Peter A. Crusco and Deputy Executive Assistant District Attorney Linda M. Cantoni.
It was noted that criminal charges are merely accusations and that defendants are presumed innocent until proven guilty.