59 NYC cabbies accused of doubling fares

September 22, 2010 2:29:31 PM PDT
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.

Some of the cabbies were so ashamed, they hid their faces here at criminal court, but investigators pushed right on -- to identify them, cuff them, even frisk them.

The cabbies are charged with felony fraud in a scheme so widespread Manhattan's district attorney says it's sending ripples of mistrust throughout the city.

"Customers were being ripped off at a record pace, sometimes by individual drivers. Dozens of times a day by unscrupulous drivers, who scammed and went unnoticed for many years," Cyrus Vance Jr. said.

They say it all involved just a touch of the meter, setting it to something called rate code 4, which doubles the fare and is only meant for rides that enter the suburbs.

Investigators now say that the 59 drivers arrested stole more than 235-thousand dollars from un-witting passengers.

Kisha DeSandies visiting from out of town says she could've been one of them.

"Because you never know what the taxi fare's supposed to be and they try to tell you, and you can't really argue with them. They want their money," she said.

A lawyer representing some of the cabbies insists his clients did nothing wrong.

"There's zone 1,2,3 and 4. They're small buttons. A taxi driver picks up a fare, presses the wrong button. A mistake," Seth Katz said.

Not to this level, authorities say.

One driver is accused of overcharging passengers more than 5 thousand times stealing more than 11 thousand dollars from them.

All tolled, 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 says officials are pursuing administrative penalties against roughly 2,000 drivers over the issue.