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Dispatchers took bribes at JFK: DA

Seven airport taxi dispatchers at both Kennedy and LaGuardia airports were charged in an alleged bribery scheme where taxi drivers would pay dispatchers to skip long, mandatory waiting lines and instead pick up passengers directly at terminals, the Queens district attorney announced.

The dispatchers, employed by Port Authority subcontractor Five Star Parking, have been arrested and charged with unlawfully receiving bribes, DA Richard Brown said.

The seven are from Woodhaven, Flushing, Jamaica, Sunnyside, Queens Village and Springfield Gardens.

The plot was discovered when an undercover Port Authority police officer posed as a yellow cab driver and tried to skip the lines in the taxi holding areas, the DA said. He offered three of the defendants cash payments and the four others gifts ranging from a laptop computer to a DVD/VCR player, according to Brown.

“In this era of heightened security at our airports, the presence of corrupt employees in a position to regulate ground traffic at our airports is particularly troubling and cannot be tolerated,” Brown told a news conference Sept. 18.

Brown, along with representatives from the Port Authority and Taxi and Limousine Commission, said the seven charged could face up to seven years in prison if convicted. He stressed that no drivers had been arrested or charged.

The investigation, which lasted from May until August, began when suspicious taxi drivers alerted the Taxi and Limousine Commission to the alleged illegal activities.

“This was an operation that was building steam over time,” the DA said. “Word gets around and that’s how the scheme spread.”

Brown said yellow cab drivers wanted “shortie” tickets, which allow drivers who waited in the hold area and then are given short fares to places like Brooklyn or Queens to pick up fares directly at terminals after they return and not have to wait in line again.

The accused dispatchers were instead illegally selling the “shortie” tickets to any driver who would pay for them, he said. The cash payments per ticket were between $5 and $10, Brown said.

“We knew this was happening on a regular basis,” Port Authority Deputy Inspector General Michael Nester said. “If you wanted to get to the front of the line, you had to pay.”

Edwin Diaz, 28, of Woodhaven, was the alleged ring leader of the scheme at JFK that lasted about a year, Brown said. He received a DVD/VCR player worth $250 for allegedly letting taxis jump the line, the DA said.

Thomas Baba, 39, of Flushing and a dispatcher at LaGuardia, and Claude Benjamin, 31, and Latisha Williams, 29, both of Jamaica, allegedly received cash payments from the undercover officer, Brown said. Christian Cardona, 24, of Sunnyside, allegedly received a laptop computer worth more than $1,000, while Carlton Clark, 23, of Springfield Gardens and Rajenddra Jaggernath, 24, of Queens Village, each allegedly received Palm Pilots, according to Brown.

Port Authority Inspector General Robert Van Etten said the investigation also mentioned a management level dispatcher who was forging old checks from former employees and then dividing the cash among fellow employees. He was not identified.

“This kind of corruption negatively affects the orderly dispatch of taxis serving the 80,000 people who use Kennedy Airport each day,” Van Etten said. “Such criminal activity undermines the efficient transportation of travelers to and from the airport and will not be tolerated.”

Reach reporter Alex Davidson by e-mail at Timesledgr@aol.com or call 229-0300, Ext. 156.

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