The people the system clearly does look out for are the most fortunate, the medallion owners — from big fleet owners like Tutunjian to mom-and-pop operators for whom weekly medallion profits are a kind of annuity. No matter how they misbehave, little comes of it.
Take the case of Pyotr Vaserman and Semyon Teperman, who owned 17 taxi medallions in 2003, when they were indicted. They helped pay a city hackney clerk, Neghisti Medhanie, more than $30,000 in bribes as the ringleaders of a scheme to secure hackney driver’s licenses for 20 unqualified immigrants from the former Soviet Union, according to court records.
Vaserman and Teperman pleaded guilty to corruption charges and were sentenced to a year in prison. Under a 1930 state law, the police commissioner is authorized to bar “unsuitable” individuals from the industry. Yet the Globe’s review found that Vaserman and Teperman simply transferred many of their taxi licenses, valued at millions of dollars, to family members who control them to this day.
Tutunjian himself played a minor role in the case. He wasn’t accused of wrongdoing, but he is briefly mentioned in the federal indictment. Prosecutors said Medhanie, who earned an annual hackney salary of less than $26,000, in 1998 negotiated the purchase of a taxi medallion and a van from Tutunjian for $90,000. Tutunjian’s company helped finance the transaction with a loan of $80,000. The loan was paid off in a year and it’s unclear whether Tutunjian knew of Medhanie’s role in the corruption scheme. Medhanie pleaded guilty to racketeering and money laundering, among other charges, and was sentenced to a year in federal prison.
Boston police said it is unclear whether it ever investigated whether there was a link between the fleet owner and a criminally convicted employee of the agency that regulates his business.
Similarly, Boston police never revoked the medallions owned by Walid Mobarak after he pleaded guilty in 2001 to bribing a police sergeant to obtain hackney licenses for unqualified drivers.
A state judge sentenced Mobarak, a Lebanese immigrant, to two years’ probation for the crime. But Boston police permitted him to retain his four taxi medallions and he has since bought a fifth medallion for $610,000.
Davis told the Globe that he would review Mobarak’s suitability to own his medallions.
The commissioner said he also will look into allegations that Teperman remains involved in the Boston taxi industry. If true, Davis said, “I will take action that will suspend those licenses.’’
Davis may also want to look into the kid-glove treatment enjoyed by Paul Morrill, a longtime friend of Mayor Menino, who, with his sons — one of them a State Police trooper — controls 11 taxi medallions worth nearly $7 million. Morrill hosted most of the city’s taxi fleet owners at his home for a Menino fund-raiser in 2000. That was during a period when Morrill was accused of misappropriating $200,000 as treasurer of the Independent Taxi Operators Association in a lawsuit brought by the ITOA.
When ITOA board members confronted Morrill one morning in February 2002 after he had allegedly tossed company business records in a dumpster, he was charged with trespassing and led out of the company’s Albany Street headquarters in handcuffs, according to witnesses and court records.
The Suffolk district attorney’s office chose not to pursue the trespassing charge. Allegations of financial improprieties were not pursued by state prosecutors. Morrill quietly settled the civil suit by paying ITOA $40,000, the Globe has learned.
And Boston police have continued to deem Morrill “suitable’’ to participate in the city’s taxi industry.
Morrill told the Globe that he has not been involved in the taxi business for 12 years. Yet police records show he still owns two medallions.
Menino’s spokeswoman, Dot Joyce, said the mayor considers Morrill a friend and does not dispute that Morrill held a fund-raiser for him, although he does not remember the event. As for Morrill’s alleged wrongdoing at ITOA, Joyce said, “Obviously, the mayor knows he had experience in the taxi industry, but he never was alerted to any of [Morrill’s] business dealings.’’
And then there is the case of Edward Kempner, a longtime medallion owner, who in 1991 pleaded guilty to tax evasion for failing to pay $36,000 in state sales taxes.
Kempner said he never collected sales tax from drivers, and chalked up his failure to pay the state to poor management. Prosecutors said Kempner gave the “feeble excuse’’ of being too busy to pay his taxes. While he was not paying his taxes, they noted, he bought six more medallions.Continued...