Manhattan DA: Scheme May Involve Maybe 2,000 Drivers

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) — Dozens of New York City taxi drivers have been arrested on charges of quietly doubling the rates that thousands of passengers should have paid. Officials say tourists and residents unsuspectingly overpaid hundreds of thousands of dollars in all.

LISTEN: 1010 WINS’ Mona Rivera reports

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City officials said Wednesday that the 59 drivers were among far more who bumped up their meters to a higher suburban rate when they were in the city. Prosecutors say the cabbies stole a total of more than $235,000 during about 77,000 cab trips.

“Unfortunately, the worst offenders did this thousands and thousands of times to unsuspecting victims,” Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance said.

Vance said one cabbie alone made made than $15,000 through the scheme.

The scam worked by pushing the button for out-of-town rate code 4, which is double the actual rate for within city limits, 1010 WINS’ Mona Rivera reported.

Some 45 drivers were being arraigned on charges of scheming to defraud. Another 14 face petty larceny charges.

Taxi and Limousine Commission Chairman David Yassky said officials are pursuing administrative penalties, including fines and revocation of driver’s licenses, against roughly 2,000 drivers over the issue.

On Wednesday some New Yorkers reacted with anger, including one woman who told CBS 2’s John Metaxas she may have been a victim.

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“One time when I was in a cab I did see that he pressed the button but I never thought of it. I thought he was actually pressing the meter but it was going double the money, and I think they should be arrested and go to jail for that,” Lower East Side resident Carolyn Alleyne said.

The lawyer for some of the cab drivers said he was blindsided by the arrests.

“We were in the process of negotiating settlements. We were called in today for a further settlement conference and we were surprised that it was in fact a roundup at this point,” attorney Seth Katz said.

Katz told Metaxas the overcharges may have been the result of driver error or machine malfunction.

But the DA’s office said the evidence is there — the top alleged offenders pushing the code 4 button thousands of times each, illegally netting tens of thousands of dollars.

The taxicab industry serves over a half million New Yorkers each day and the vast majority of taxicab drivers are honest. That makes authorities even more emphatic in their insistence of holding accountable any who may have committed fraud.

“I don’t see why they need to make a couple of extra dollars and put it in their pocket and go about their business when a lot of people are out of work. It’s a shame,” Suffolk County resident Tom Pirraglia said.

“They stealing from the people of New York,” Harlem resident Jose Pina said.

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“Well, I say New York cabs are expensive enough without it being doubled,” said Connie Garcia of Inwood.