Nearly four dozen drivers of tour buses, New York City buses, taxis and other commercial vehicles are being charged with felonies for holding commercial licenses even though they had other licenses suspended under different names, Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced Monday.
The latest and broadest crackdown on commercial drivers comes after a tour bus crash in March that killed 15 people returning to New York City from a Connecticut casino. It makes use of facial recognition technology that matches photos of driver's licenses issued under other names.
The licensed drivers include four working for the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, one of whom is a mechanic who also drives buses in MTA facilities. The driver's licenses are suspended pending court action.
"Many of the individuals arrested today obtained multiple driver licenses in order to collect benefits, and even worse, to conceal violent criminal histories," said New York City Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly.
Cuomo told The Associated Press that the 46 arrests were the result of partnerships with authorities from the New York City Police Department and U.S. Customs along with prosecutors in suburban Westchester, Rockland and Nassau counties and in the New York City boroughs of Queens, the Bronx and Brooklyn.
Drivers accused of using aliases to obtain multiple licenses are being charged with offering a false instrument for filing and falsifying business records.
In addition, several drivers had a long list of pending traffic tickets to which they never responded and now face aggravated unlicensed operation charges. Others were wanted under felony warrants or had been sought for deportation. Nineteen drove taxis.
"With New York's use of facial recognition technology, drivers who obtain multiple licenses under different names now have no place to hide," Cuomo said Monday. "We will not tolerate dangerous buses and drivers or fraud in obtaining a license."
Most of the drivers had New York City addresses, but they came from elsewhere, including Sleepy Hollow in the Hudson Valley and Hempstead on Long Island.
Since the March 12 crash, Cuomo has directed the state Department of Motor Vehicles, Inspector General Ellen Biben and the state Department of Transportation to work with local police and prosecutors to scrutinize the tour bus industry in New York.
The bus involved in the deadly crash was traveling at 78 mph when it toppled off an elevated highway and struck a utility pole, peeling off its roof. A passenger has said the driver fell asleep, but the driver has said he was alert and well-rested. The crash is under investigation.
Last month, nearly 100 buses and more than 100 bus drivers were removed from the road in surprise inspections.
The state Department of Transportation has made 1,960 surprise roadside inspections since March 17. State police issued 197 tickets and 173 bus drivers and 143 buses were sidelined.
The DMV's facial recognition technology, first used last year, has so far identified more than 3,000 people with multiple licenses. More than 600 were arrested on felony charges.