JFK taxi dispatchers charged in bribery scheme for line-cutting privileges: DA

Nine taxi dispatchers at JFK Airport were arraigned Monday in Queens Criminal Court for taking bribes to allow cabbies to skip the line when picking up passengers.
QNS file photo

Nine taxi dispatchers at JFK Airport were arraigned Monday in Queens Criminal Court on bribery charges for taking cash in exchange for letting drivers pick up passengers at terminals without waiting in line with fellow cabbies in chronically long lines at the central taxi dispatch holding lot.

The defendants were arraigned on a complaint charging them with second-degree commercial bribe receiving, official misconduct, and receiving unlawful gratuities. Four of the defendants are accused of taking more than $1,000 in bribes and are charged with first-degree commercial bribe receiving, which is a felony.

An arrest warrant was issued for a tenth dispatcher who remains at large.

QNS file photo

According to the charges, in 2022, the Port Authority received complaints alleging that some taxi dispatchers at JFK were taking bribes to allow yellow cab drivers to pick up passengers without waiting in line. After a preliminary review, the Port Authority’s Office of the Inspector General and the DA’s Airport Investigations Unit launched a probe.

A joint investigation found that between January 2022 and February 2024, the defendants accepted more than $12,000 in bribes in cash or via Zelle, or CashApp payments. The bribes were accepted in small increments, often $5 to $10 per trip.

“The victims of corruption, without fail, are honest, hardworking men and women,” Queens District Attorney Melinda Katz said. “As if the challenges of making a living as a yellow cab driver were not already enough, the cabbies at JFK had to overcome greed and corruption in their effort to put food on the table for themselves and their families. We will not allow that to stand. My office conducted a lengthy and in-depth investigation into these allegations and will hold the corrupt accountable.”

Eight of the defendants were arrested on Mar. 12 when they showed up at JFK for what they believed was a training session. The ninth defendant was arrested separately on Mar. 27. They all received desk appearance tickets at the time of their arrest. The defendants are employees of a subcontractor retained by the Port Authority, which operates JFK.

“The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey has zero tolerance for anyone, including individuals working for private contractors, who seek to abuse their positions and enrich themselves for private gain at the expense of the hard-working people who provide services to our airport customers,” Port Authority Inspector General John Gay said. “We thank the Queens District Attorney’s Office and our law enforcement partners for working with us to root out these contractor employees who improperly seek to gain from others, and bring them to justice.”

The four defendants hit with the felony charges are Jovane Johnson, 21, of Jamaica and Yolanda Rodriguez, 67, of Laurelton, and Brooklyn’s Adrian Grullon, 32, and Joseph Woodward, 56. The remaining defendants are all from Queens including Saeed Ahmed, 61, of Ozone Park, George Brown, 39, of Jamaica, Satesh Sooklall, 34, of Jamaica, Tuwayne Coley, 22, of Jamaica, and Jairo Sarmiento, 23, of New Hyde Park in Queens.

“More than 905 of our drivers are immigrants, and many of them came here to avoid exactly this kind of corruption in their native lands,” Taxi and Limousine Commissioner David Do said. “Public safety and playing by the rules are precursors for prosperity, and that goes for drivers, too. Any time we learn of drivers bribing dispatchers or operating illegally, we will move to revoke their licenses.”

The four defendants who were hit with the felony charges all face up to a 1 and ⅓ to 4 years in jail if convicted while the remaining defendants all face up to a year in jail if convicted.

Taxi dispatchers at JFK regulate the movement of yellow cabs from the central holding lot to various terminal pick-up areas in order to ensure both the arriving passengers have access to taxis and that terminal frontages do not become overly congested. The taxis are released from the holding area in the order in which they arrive at the lot. At the terminal pick-up location, the dispatcher on site maintains the same sequence when directing a fare to a specific taxi.