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Prosecutors: 16 airport cab dispatchers charged in scam

JFK Airport taxi dispatchers are led to law

JFK Airport taxi dispatchers are led to law enforcement vans after being arrested in a bribery sting on Wednesday, March 19, 2014. Credit: Anthony Lanzilote

Sixteen taxi dispatchers were charged Wednesday in a bribery scheme in which authorities said they solicited kickbacks from cabdrivers to cut lines at Kennedy Airport, bypassing long waits for fares.

The dispatchers, mostly Brooklyn and Queens residents, were employed by subcontractor Gateway Group One, a Newark company that provides dispatching and security services at Kennedy, LaGuardia and Newark Liberty International Airport, the company said.

The scam allegedly allowed drivers to "cut the line" -- moving them ahead of other drivers forced to wait in a central holding area until dispatched for fares. Drivers paid dispatchers bribes, about $10 dollars per fare, to report to the terminals without waiting, said Queens District Attorney Richard A. Brown, who announced the arrests along with Port Authority Inspector General Robert E. Van Etten in a news release.

"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 make hundreds of dollars on a daily basis," Brown said in the statement.

Brown said dispatchers regulate the movement of taxis from the holding area, where the wait for a fare is about two to three hours. Typically, each driver leaving the lot is issued a dispatch ticket with the vehicle's medallion number, date and time they left the area.

The 15 dispatchers were arrested after they showed up at the airport believing they had been invited to a training session. A sixteenth dispatcher was expected to be arrested Wednesday night.

Each defendant was charged with second-degree commercial bribe receiving, official misconduct and receiving unlawful gratuities -- all misdemeanors punishable by up to 1 year in jail.

Gateway said the 16 employees were terminated Wednesday.

A source familiar with the investigation said drivers, in some cases, also received a fraudulent "shorty ticket," usually only given to drivers who pick up shorter distance fares. The ticket allows drivers to head directly to the terminal for their next fare, bypassing the usual wait. Those tickets are not allowed to be sold to drivers, officials said.

Authorities said the scam ran from December 2012 through February. Investigators, who used confidential informants and electronic surveillance, started their probe after receiving an anonymous tip.

Independently, Gateway said it had conducted its own review first after receiving complaints on its 24-hour ethics line and reported its findings to law enforcement.

Van Etten said Gateway and the Taxi and Limousine Commission cooperated with the investigation.

With John Valenti

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