By Shanice Punnett
Queens District Attorney Richard Brown, together with Port Authority Inspector General Robert Van Etten, announced Wednesday that 16 airport taxi dispatchers were arrested in an undercover sting operation and charged with unlawfully receiving cash bribes in a taxi-dispatching scheme at John F. Kennedy International Airport.
The alleged scheme was uncovered in December 2012, when the inspector general’s office received an anonymous call alleging that taxi dispatchers were allowing taxi drivers to go directly to airport terminals without waiting in the central taxi holding lot, the DA said.
Seven of the 16 dispatchers charged reside in Queens, and five dispatchers – Duwayne Bayliss, 34; Kevin Dean, 52; Lennox Ifill, 62; Jahreme Joefield, 33; and Jaccain Montauban, 30 – are Jamaica residents, the DA said.
Bayside resident Wag Yum Ng, 56, and Far Rockaway resident Natasha Stoute, 30, were also charged in the sting, the DA said.After a preliminary review, an investigation was launched by the DA’s Airport Investigations Unit and the IG’s office, and included the use of electronic surveillance and confidential informants, according to Brown.
Between December 2012 and February 2014 the defendants allegedly accepted cash payments of $10 to allow undercover officers to skip the line, according to the criminal charges.
During the investigation, Gateway Frontline Services, the PA subcontractor that hires the dispatchers, together with the PA, developed a wireless, Internet-based, taxi-dispatching system that uses Radio Frequency Identification Decals technology to track the movement of taxis at the airports in real time.
This was done in order to dispatch them more quickly and efficiently, and the system prevents the loopholes that allegedly had been used by dispatchers to evade the hold and dispatch process.
“The bribery scam allegedly allowed taxi drivers to basically ‘cut the line’ and get ahead of honest drivers waiting their turn for passengers,” 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.”
The DA explained that 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 the taxis are summoned as needed in the order they arrived to the terminal pick-up for incoming flights.
When exiting the holding lot, each driver is issued a “dispatch ticket,” on which is printed the taxi’s medallion number as well as the date and time of the exit from the holding area.
Additionally, when a dispatcher gives a medallion taxi driver a “local fare,” a fare to a nearby destination, 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.
This 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 dispatchers are not allowed to sell them.
“I want to thank DA Brown, Gateway Frontline Services and the Taxi & Limousine Commission for a successful collaboration in ferreting out this corrupt scheme,” Van Etten said. “These defendants sold out their position of public trust and chose to line their pockets and enrich themselves.”
The 16 defendants were being held pending arraignment in Queens Criminal Court as of Wednesday. They are 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.
“The defendants took unfair advantage of a dispatching process that was created to provide a level playing field for all cab drivers,” Van Etten added. “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.”
Wag Yum Ng, 56, of Bayside
Natasha Stoute, 30, of Far Rockaway