IRS agents executed a search warrant today at the headquarters of Boston’s largest taxi company, Boston Cab, which was the focus of a recent Globe Spotlight Team project that found widespread exploitation in the industry.
The agents, who were accompanied by the Boston police and Cambridge police and agents from the Secret Service and the US Department of Housing and Urban Development, descended on the Kilmarnock Street garage owned by Edward J. Tutunjian, a Jordanian-born immigrant who entered the cab business in Boston in the 1960s and now owns 372 taxi medallions.
Each is worth about $600,000. Tutunjian owns about 1 in 5 of the city’s 1,825 medallions.
A cabbie at the garage told a Globe photographer that the IRS agents drew their guns and instructed everyone inside the mammoth garage to put their hands up during the raid yesterday afternoon.
Jessica Crocker, an IRS agent and spokeswoman, confirmed that the IRS and other agencies were ``conducting a court-authorized operation’’ but referred all other questions to the office of US Attorney Carmen Ortiz.
A three-part Spotlight Team series in March and April documented how many taxi drivers pay Tutunjian’s staff petty bribes to get keys to taxis that they lease for about $100 a 12-hour shift. The stories also reported that drivers are pressured to buy gasoline at above-market prices from Tutunjian’s gas pump and are often told to make up phantom shortfalls that they cannot dispute because they don’t receive receipts.
As a result of the series, Mayor Thomas M. Menino ordered a sweeping review of Boston’s taxi industry. Tutunjian owns vineyards in Chile and real estate in Boston and elsewhere.
Cheryl Fiandaca, a spokeswoman for the Boston Police Department, said Boston officers were there only to provide law enforcement support while IRS agents did their work.
Police Commissioner Edward F. Davis told the Globe Spotlight Team earlier this year that he had alerted federal authorities about potential criminal activities at the Kilmarnock Street garage and they opened an inquiry. “This is part of that ongoing investigation,’’ Fiandaca said.
Authorities raided Tutunjian’s garage and adjoining office on Kilmarnock Street on Friday afternoon, as he looked on with his attorney.
Officials in blue shirts marked “Federal Agent” were seen entering both buildings at about 5 p.m. with empty boxes.
Tutunjian declined to comment at the scene. He later entered the garage with a group of agents. “We’re not going to talk at all,” said his lawyer, Mark E. Robinson of Bingham McCutchen LLP.
A driver who was inside the garage when agents first entered at around 3 p.m. told the Globe they came in with their guns drawn and said “hands up.”
The drivers were later allowed to leave, said the man, who declined to give his name. Several of Tutunjian’s drivers stood across the street at about 5:30 p.m., including Haile Afework, 48, who has worked out of the garage for the last decade.
He said he had heard nothing about the raid and, when asked about Tutunjian, said, “he’s okay.” Afework said he has never had any disputes with Tutunjian, but some of his colleagues have complained about being overcharged to drive.
Donna Blythe-Shaw, Boston Taxi Drivers Association’s representative, said the raid had upset some of her members, who wonder how and whether their livelihoods will be affected. “Boston Cab Dispatch sent out a message saying, ‘Don’t come back to the garage,’ ‘’ Shaw said. “So drivers are wondering: What do I do? Do they take their cabs home or do they keep driving? They don’t know what to do.’’
News that authorities had entered the offices of the cab company near Fenway Park came near shift change for the company’s drivers. Drivers pay about $100 to rent cabs for 12-hour shifts, typically beginning their work routine at 4 or 5 p.m. or 4 or 5 a.m.