MIDTOWN — An Asian chauffeur driving his white employer of more than 20 years was wrongfully accused by city inspectors of being an illegal cab driver, court papers say.
Joseph Zhenguo Lu has filed a notice of claim against the city’s Taxi and Limousine Commission that says its agents issued him a summons and seized his black Honda Pilot SUV when they spotted his elderly boss in his rear passenger seat.
The notice, filed with the city comptroller’s office in March, seeks $1,200, the amount Lu ended up paying in fines and towing charges.
Lu’s lawyer, Linda Strumpf, said the inspectors stopped his car in Midtown because he was Chinese and his boss, Mary Ann Spinale, was a white woman.
Two other drivers — a black man taking his biracial wife to work and a Turkish postman dropping off white friends at Kennedy Airport — have made similar accusations to DNAinfo New York that TLC inspectors profiled them and wrongfully claimed they were illegal hacks.
“They look for people that don’t look related,” Strumpf said of the inspectors. “They’re definitely racially profiling.”
Lu, of Flushing, is a full-time employee of Chain Trucking Corp., a Bronx company owned by Mary Ann Spinale and her husband, Anthony Spinale. Private drivers are legal in the city so long as they do not provide public for-hire services.
Normally, Lu drives Spinale in a limousine. However, on the day of the incident, Lu used his personal SUV to drive her because the limo wasn’t handling well in snowy weather, the notice says.
Inspectors pulled over Lu at 3:30 p.m. on Jan. 22 at 57th Street and Park Avenue.
Their summons states that Lu and Spinale both admitted that she paid him to pick her up at her Central Park West home, take her to run errands and return her to her residence.
However, the notice says Spinale tried to explain that Lu was her longtime employee but the inspectors didn’t listen. Lu, who doesn’t speak English as his first language, was nervous and unable to explain the situation to the TLC agents, according to the notice.
Lu pleaded guilty to the summons on Jan. 23 and paid $1,200 in fines to get his car out of an impound lot.
He could have fought the summons at his hearing date, which was scheduled for Jan. 27. Lu also had the option of paying a $2,000 bond to retrieve his car before the hearing.
However, the notice says that due to his limited English, Lu didn’t realize he was pleading guilty.
“As Mr. Lu could not be without his vehicle for such a long period of time and did not understand that he was pleading guilty, he opted to pay the lesser amount to get his vehicle back as soon as possible,” the notice says.
In February, Strumpf sent a letter to the TLC explaining what happened and asking for a refund, but the agency denied the request. The notice, which includes pay stubs and an affidavit from Spinale attesting to his longtime employment, seeks $1,200.
A TLC spokesman declined to comment because the agency had not seen the notice of claim.