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JFK Cab Dispatchers Demanded Bribes to Bypass Pick-Up Lines, DA Says

By Ben Fractenberg | March 19, 2014 2:53pm

QUEENS — More than a dozen taxi dispatchers at JFK were charged with taking cash payments from cab drivers to allow them to skip to the front of the the airport passenger pick-up line, the Queens District Attorney's Office announced Wednesday.

“The bribery scam allegedly allowed taxi drivers to basically ‘cut the line’ and get ahead of honest drivers waiting their turn for passengers," said Queens District Attorney Richard Brown in a statement. "Though the alleged bribes paid each time amounted to only a few dollars, on busy days, thousands of cabs pass through JFK’s terminals during an eight-hour shift — giving a dishonest dispatcher the opportunity to illegally make hundreds of dollars on a daily basis.”

The dispatchers are supposed to distinguish between cabs based on their destination. Those who want to drive passengers to Manhattan, The Bronx, or other longer-distance destinations are directed to a central holding area to await summoning. Taxis can wait two to three hours in the holding area until they are summoned in coordination with incoming flights, prosecutors said.

Drivers who take passengers to a closer destination, including Brooklyn, Queens and the Five Towns area in Long Island, are given a "shorty" ticket, which allows them to skip the holding area upon returning to JFK and go directly to the pick-up area.

But under the terms of the scam, dispatchers were allegedly doling out shorty tickets to those who didn't merit them in exchange for a small bribe, officials said.

The district attorney's office and Port Authority Inspector General's Office started an investigation into the dispatchers after receiving an anonymous tip in December 2012.

Investigators used confidential informants and electronic surveillance to substantiate the scam, according to the district attorney's office.

The 16 dispatchers all worked for Gateway Frontline Services, a subcontractor with the Port Authority, officials said.

During the investigation Frontline Services and the Port Authority developed wireless, internet-based dispatching system that they hope will prevent graft, prosecutors said.  

The drivers were expected to be arraigned in Queens Criminal Court Wednesday afternoon on charges of second-degree commercial bribe receiving, official misconduct and receiving unlawful gratuities. They face up to a year in prison if convicted.