The owner of a New York taxi company has been ordered to pay several thousand dollars in fines and implement a series of business changes after he was nabbed gouging prices against undocumented immigrants fleeing across the border into Canada, the state's attorney general said Wednesday.
Christopher Crowningshield, who owns and drives for Northern Taxi in Morrisonville, Clinton County, allegedly routinely took advantage of immigrants fearful of deportation, charging them $300 or more for a ride from Plattsburgh to the Canadian border, which is typically a $50 to $75 fare, Attorney General Eric Schneiderman said in announcing the judgment.
Schneiderman's office started looking into taxi companies in the Plattsburgh-area after getting reports drivers were taking advantage of immigrant customers. As part of the probe, an investigator from the attorney general's Rochester regional office was dropped off at Plattsburgh’s Greyhound bus depot just after a bus from New York City had arrived. The investigator handed the cab driver a note indicating that she wanted to go to a specific point where one could walk across the border into Canada.
Crowningshield agreed to take her, but repeatedly refused to answer her questions about the fare, and no rates were posted anywhere on or in the vehicle, Schneiderman said. Only after they were driving along Interstate 87 on their way to the border did Crowningshield say he'd be charging the investigator $200, Schneiderman said.
The attorney general filed a petition in New York State Supreme Court last week alleging Crowningshield had repeatedly violated a business law requiring rates to be posted obviously in taxi cabs. The purpose of that law, Schneiderman pointed out, is to protect vulnerable customers.
“It’s no secret that we’ve seen intense fear in immigrant communities across New York in recent months. To take advantage of that fear for financial gain is simply unconscionable,” Schneiderman said. “Unfortunately, frightened and desperate people are the number one target of scammers. My office won’t hesitate to crack down on those seeking to take advantage of this climate of fear – and I urge anyone who suspects that they are the victim of a scam or price gouging to contact my office.”
Crowningshield was ordered to pay $2,500 in penalties and costs. In accordance with the judgment announced Wednesday, he must also post rates in clearly visible places, quote them in advance and charge only reasonable fares for travel to the border (no more than 10 times the maximum fare for cab rides in Plattsburgh). The top fare currently permitted in Plattsburgh is $7.75, Schneiderman said, so Crowningshield can charge no more than $77.50 for a ride from the area to the border.
NBC 4 New York couldn't immediately reach Crowningshield for comment Wednesday. He hung up the phone when a New York Times reporter reached him, the paper reported.