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Sting operation nets taxi dispatchers at N.Y.'s LaGuardia on bribery charges

"[The dispatchers] sold out their position of public trust and chose to line their pockets," Port Authority of New York and New Jersey Inspector General Michael Nestor said.

By
Doug G. Ware
Multiple taxi dispatchers were arrested at New York City's LaGuardia International Airport on Wednesday for allegedly accepting bribes from drivers that allowed them to skip to the front of the line -- a move that officials say saved them about two or three hours of waiting in airport lots. Photo: bikeriderlondon / Shutterstock
Multiple taxi dispatchers were arrested at New York City's LaGuardia International Airport on Wednesday for allegedly accepting bribes from drivers that allowed them to skip to the front of the line -- a move that officials say saved them about two or three hours of waiting in airport lots. Photo: bikeriderlondon / Shutterstock

EAST ELMHURST, N.Y., Aug. 12 (UPI) -- More than a half dozen taxi dispatchers were arrested Wednesday at New York City's LaGuardia International Airport for allegedly taking bribes from cabbies -- intended to circumvent long waits near some of the world's most congested airspace, officials said.

According to the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, which operates the area's three major airports, the dispatchers had been taking payments typically between $5 and $10 in order to let drivers effectively skip to the front of the pickup line.

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It's a tactic that's been used by cabbies in virtually every city for decades, officials said, but it's still illegal.

Seven dispatchers who arrived at the airport Wednesday, thinking they were attending a training session, were instead arrested by authorities.

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"On busy days, thousands of cabs pass through La Guardia's terminals during an eight-hour shift -- giving a dishonest dispatcher the opportunity to illegally make hundreds of dollars on a daily basis," Queens, N.Y., District Attorney Richard A. Brown said after the arrests Wednesday. "The bribery scam allegedly allowed taxi drivers to basically 'cut the line' and get ahead of honest drivers waiting their turn for passengers."

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Investigators say taxi drivers are supposed to wait in idling lots for dispatchers to assign them fares. Cabbies discovered long ago that by slipping dispatchers a five or ten dollar bill, they could bypass the wait.

It's a practice authorities have been trying to stop for decades.

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The Port Authority again began receiving complaints that drivers were cutting in line -- a violation of the local criminal code -- in January, Brown's office said. An undercover sting operation was launched in February.

Michael Nestor, the Port Authority's inspector general, said Wednesday that the dispatchers had "sold out their position of public trust and chose to line their pockets."

"The defendants took unfair advantage of a dispatching process that was created to provide a level playing field for all cabdrivers," he added.

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Those arrested Wednesday were identified as Louis Evens, 57, Delia Gonzalez, 51, Algimir Kabir, 60, Claudine Roberts, 33, Claude Tobias, 33, Gary Luc Valerius, 55, and Michael Zalt, 66.

New York City's WABC-TV reported Wednesday that an eighth dispatcher, 48-year-old Crystal Warlick, hadn't been arrested but is wanted by authorities.

The defendants are awaiting arraignment on multiple counts of 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.

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