Hacks Plead Guilty in Taxi Fare-Boosting Scam

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    NEWSLETTERS

    TK
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    Taxis line up on 7th Avenue to pick up passengers at Penn Station during the taxi strike on September 5, 2007 in New York City.

    More than two dozen taxi drivers have pleaded guilty after a broad probe into a fare-boosting scam that affected thousands of tourists and residents who rode in the city's signature yellow cabs, prosecutors said Monday.

    The Manhattan district attorney's office compiled the numbers after the latest guilty plea, entered Monday by a driver accused of quietly manipulating his meter to double the fare rate for nearly 4,000 trips. With his admission, 26 drivers have pleaded guilty to felony charges, the DA's office said; more than a dozen other cases remain open.

    Forty-five cabbies were charged with felonies in September after authorities said they repeatedly racheted their meters up to a higher suburban fare rate when they actually were in the city, where the basic rate is about $2 a mile.

    Fourteen other drivers were charged with misdemeanors. The statuses of their cases weren't immediately available Monday.

    Unsuspecting passengers overpaid an average of about $5, officials have said. But each cabbie who faced felony charges overcharged at least 300 times, and some did it enough to steal more than $10,000, officials said.

    In one of the biggest cases, cabbie Santiago Rossi — accused of upping the fare 5,127 times to bilk about $11,000 — pleaded guilty in December to scheming to defraud, court records show. He was sentenced last week to 30 days in jail and five years' probation, the records show.

    The driver accused of raking in the most money in the scheme, Mfamara Camara, has pleaded not guilty and continues to fight allegations of overcharging a total of about $15,500 through nearly 4,800 fares.

    Officials said the criminal cases represented just the most serious offenders among about 22,000 believed to have deployed the fare trick, together netting about $1.1 million before the city took steps to stop it this spring. The city has pursued fines or license revocations for thousands of drivers, the city Taxi & Limousine Commission said.

    Drivers have said some overcharges were honest mistakes, and some drivers' advocates have criticized the taxi meter technology used to build the cases.

    Officials stressed that the allegations involve only a portion of the city's roughly 48,000 yellow-cab drivers. All the city's roughly 13,000 yellow taxis are now equipped with warning systems that alert passengers if the higher rate is being charged.