Taxi dispatchers charged with taking bribes from cabbies at JFK Airport

A group of taxi dispatchers at JFK Airport allegedly took more than $12,000 in bribes from cab drivers over the last two years in exchange for allowing them to cut to the front of long lines to pick up passengers, Queens District Attorney Melinda Katz said Monday.

Cabbies looking to make a pickup at the airport have to wait in a central holding lot, and dispatchers are supposed to send them to taxi stands at terminals in the order in which they arrive. But Katz said at least nine dispatchers exploited the system, allowing drivers to skip the wait if they slipped them as little as $5 in cash or through apps like CashApp or Zelle.

Four of the dispatchers were charged with accepting bribes that totaled to more than $1,000 since 2022, and face up to four years in prison if they’re convicted, according to Katz’s office. The DA said the five other people charged in the scheme took less than $1,000 in bribes and face up to a year in prison if they’re convicted. A judge has also issued an arrest warrant for a tenth person who is still being sought for taking bribes, according to the DA.

“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,” Katz wrote in a statement. “We will not allow that to stand.”

Katz said all the people charged were working for a third party contractor and not the Port Authority, which runs the airport. Attorneys for the defendants did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

The charges come to light as the city’s yellow taxi industry struggles to bounce back from the COVID pandemic. Data from the city Taxi and Limousine Commission shows yellow taxis made about 94,000 trips per day in January, down from more than 217,000 during the same month of 2020.

Only 7,200 of the city’s 13,500 licensed yellow taxis were active in January, according to the data.

And JFK Airport is a big source of revenue for those drivers. TLC spokesperson Jason Kersten said the travel hub was home to 126,000 yellow taxi pickups throughout February — accounting for one out of every 25 pickups across the city.

TLC Commissioner David Do said in a statement that cabbies can lose their license if caught bribing a dispatcher. He noted that 90% of the city’s taxi drivers are immigrants who came to U.S., “to avoid exactly this kind of corruption in their native lands.

“Public safety and playing by the rules are precursors for prosperity, and that goes for drivers, too,” Do said.

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