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Access-a-Ride driver in Queens charged with scamming MTA: DA

QNS file photo by Christina Santucci

A Long Island man was arrested and charged with bilking the Metropolitan Transportation Authority out of nearly $70,000 while driving for its Access-a-Ride service, according to Queens District Attorney Melinda Katz.

James Laverty, 72, of Freeport, was arraigned Thursday, Nov. 18, before Queens Criminal Court Judge Scott Dunn on a three-count complaint charging him with grand larceny and other crimes for allegedly submitting bogus claims for rides requested using a mobile phone app between September 2020 and March 2021.

Katz explained that in early 2019, the MTA partnered with Curb Mobility LLC to provide paratransit users the ability to request an Access-a-Ride through their mobile phones. Sometime after Sept. 1, 2020, a Queens woman downloaded the Curb app and created a user name and password. She requested two rides and Laverty was the driver who picked her up and provided her with service.

However, the defendant’s monthly reimbursement requests for payment to Curb allegedly stated he had picked up this same woman 661 times between September 2020 and February 2021.

According to the charges, the MTA reimbursed Curb for the cost of those 661 trips, just over $69,860. MTA investigators observed Laverty driving his own wheelchair-accessible TLC yellow taxi on numerous occasions in Queens and elsewhere. On these trips in which the defendant was supposed to be driving the female passenger, there was actually no one else in the vehicle except for Laverty.

“It is morally bankrupt that this unscrupulous driver was allegedly able to rip off nearly $70,000 from a program specifically intended to provide vital transportation to people with disabilities,” MTA Inspector General Carolyn Pokorny said. “This case highlights why strong fraud controls must be implemented throughout the MTA. I am proud to stand with the Queens District Attorney’s Office, the NYC Department of Investigation and the NYC Taxi and Limousine Commission, to ensure that this bad actor is held responsible for his actions. We will continue to work with the MTA to ensure strong internal controls are in place to prevent this misconduct from happening again.”

Judge Dunn ordered the defendant to return to court on Dec. 9. If convicted, Lavery faces up to 15 years in prison.

“The Access-a-Ride service provides much-needed transportation options for those with mobility issues,” Katz said. “Sadly, this defendant allegedly found a way to scam the system. This kind of malfeasance is unacceptable and the defendant will be prosecuted for his alleged crimes. My office will continue to work with our law enforcement partners to stop scammers from lining their pockets at the expense of others.”

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