New York Attorney General Barbara D. Underwood and Acting Commissioner of Taxation and Finance Nonie Manion have announced that New York’s so-called “Taxi King” has pleaded guilty to tax fraud. Evgeny “Gene” Freidman, a Russian immigrant, pleaded guilty to a single count of criminal tax fraud, agreeing that he failed to remit $5 million in MTA surcharge taxes between 2012 and 2015.
“Today, the ‘Taxi King’ admitted that he built his empire by stealing from New Yorkers,” said Attorney General Underwood. “Freidman pocketed money that should have provided much-needed investment in our transit system—and he’ll now have to pay back every cent. Our office will continue to hold accountable those who cheat the system.”
In 2017, the Attorney General’s office filed an indictment charging Freidman and his codefendant and reported business partner, Andreea Dumitru, with four counts of criminal tax fraud in the first degree and one count of grand larceny in the first degree.
Prior to the indictment, the tax dispute involving Freidman had been characterized as a civil dispute. That’s not unusual in the tax world. When taxes may be owed, a taxpayer generally receives an assessment or request for an exam. Sometimes the inquiry grows, but remains civil; the move to criminal charges typically occurs when conduct is considered willful or if the amount involved represents a significant underpayment.
According to court documents, Freidman’s taxi company, TaxiclubManagement, Inc., managed four taxicab medallion management agencies in the state of New York. As a result of his influence in the taxi business, Freidman also owned or managed a fleet of over 260 medallion taxicabs and leased hundreds of additional medallions from other owners. Some of those medallions were owned by Michael Cohen, President Trump’s personal attorney. According to the New York Times, Freidman was “Cohen’s partner in the taxi business for years.” The pair was so close that Cohen reportedly managed Freidman’s cabs after city regulators barred the Taxi King from managing his taxi medallions last year.
The purpose of a taxi medallion is to regulate—and in many cases, limit–the number of taxis allowed to operate inside a particular border. The name refers to the metal plate that’s physically affixed to cabs, and in some areas, like New York and Philadelphia, taxis may not operate without them. That makes them extremely valuable. Depending on the location, a single medallion could be worth hundreds of thousands of dollars.
As part of the cost of a taxi ride, most passengers pay a 50 cent state tax, called the MTA tax. The tax is automatically included with the fare. As with sales tax, those who are in charge of collecting the tax are also responsible for reporting and delivering the tax to the proper authorities.
The indictment alleged that instead of paying the tax over to the state for rides taken in cabs that Freidman managed, he and Dumitru pocketed the money. To cover their actions, the pair allegedly filed bogus returns or failed to file tax returns, and underreported the number of taxi rides to the state. The state claimed that by deceiving the tax authorities, Freidman and Dumitru were able to sock away nearly $5 million that had been collected from passengers.
As part of his plea, Freidman admitted that he received MTA taxes from passengers and intentionally failed to pay those taxes to the state. Within 30 days of his plea, Freidman must pay restitution in the amount of $500,000. Prior to sentencing, he must pay an additional $500,000 restitution and agree to cover all MTA tax liabilities owed from January 1, 2012, through December 31, 2015.
Under the terms of the agreement, Freidman will not go to prison so long as he pays what he owes and otherwise completes the terms of his plea. The Attorney General declared that his sentence will be adjourned, meaning that he will be on supervised release while he makes restitution. If Freidman satisfies the terms of the agreement, he will be sentenced to probation.
Some media outlets are reporting that the plea agreement requires Freidman to cooperate in an ongoing investigation, prompting allegations that Freidman may turn on Cohen. However, the Attorney General’s office has not confirmed any such requirement as part of the plea.
Freidman’s lawyer did not immediately respond to an email seeking comment.
The charges against Andreea Dumitru remain pending.
Uber applies for patent to spot drunken passengers
The technology could spot changes in walking speed, user typos, and swaying motions
Popular taxi app Uber has applied for a patent to use artificial intelligence to determine how drunk a potential passenger may be.
According to the company’s application, made to the US patent office, the new technology would allow them to spot “uncharacteristic user activity” by monitoring customers’ activity as they use the Uber app. These variables could include: walking speed, unusual spelling errors made while typing on the app, the angle at which a potential passenger holds the phone and whether the phone is moving in an abnormal way.
Thought the patent application does not explicitly refer to identifying drunk or otherwise inebriated passengers – it uses terms such as ‘predicting user state using machine learning” and “uncharacteristic user states” – The Guardian points out that vetting intoxicated passengers is the most likely application for a system built to spot typos or unusual swaying motions.
The patent application suggests various ways that Uber may tailor their service if a user is seen to be exhibiting “uncharacteristic user activity”. For example, they may be directed to a well-lit pickup point, or they may be matched with a driver trained to deal with drunk passengers. Uber also suggest that intoxicated passengers may be prevented from “pooling” with other app users.
Many critics have suggested that Uber’s new proposed system may allow drivers to exploit intoxicated passengers. The company has seen several serious data breaches over the last few years, and in 2014 came under criticism for its use of the controversial ‘God View’ software program. The software allowed the company to monitor real-time locations of customers and drivers. In 2016, the company’s former forensic investigator Samuel Ward Spangenberg concluded that the software was abused by employees who used it to track ex-partners and celebrities.
In a statement, Uber said: “We are always exploring ways that our technology can help improve the Uber experience for riders and drivers. We file patent applications on many ideas, but not all of them actually become products or features.”
from NME website
New York City Uber Driver Has License Suspended After Kicking Out 2 Kissing Women
An Uber driver who booted two kissing women out of his car had his livery license suspended on Tuesday.
The New York City Taxi and Limousine Commission, which licenses about 180,000 drivers of car services and yellow cabs, called his behavior “ridiculous.”
“It’s 2018 in New York City, and this isn’t the way we live anymore,” commission spokesman Allen Fromberg said.
The women, Alex Iovine and Emma Pichl, a couple in their 20s, were on their way from Brooklyn to Manhattan on Saturday when they exchanged what they called a “peck” on the lips. They said driver Ahmad El Boutari, who’s 35 and lives in Brooklyn, forced them out and a confrontation ensued.
A cellphone video taken by Pichl shows the driver saying that kissing in an Uber is illegal.
“You can’t do this in the car,” the driver says.
“Kissing is not illegal,” one of the women responds. “Why are we not allowed to kiss in an Uber?”
“It’s disrespectful,” the driver says.
Fromberg noted that the city does not regulate behavior in Uber cars and similar services. But he called what the driver did to the women “an unacceptable and repugnant act that will not be tolerated.”
The Taxi and Limousine Commission is investigating.
Uber has behavior rules amounting to, basically, no sex in cars. But Iovine and Pichl said they were doing no such thing.
El Boutari told the Daily News that the women played loud music on their phones and one put her feet on the seat.
But Iovine said that was not true.
“We would never try to upset someone in their own car,” she said by telephone.
Then, “after we had peck-kissed, sitting on opposite sides of the back seat and not even touching, I saw him looking at me in the rearview mirror,” she said. “He was very angry.”
She said they were in lower Manhattan when the driver pulled over, opened a rear door and ordered them to “get out of my car.”
During the altercation, when Pichl started recording the scene, “he grabbed Emma’s arm to try to get her to stop,” Iovine said. “It was kind of a scary experience.”
Uber, which is based in San Francisco, has removed El Boutari’s access to its app, saying it does not tolerate discrimination. It said it is investigating.
Uber CEO says New York City should charge a fee on all ride-hailing trips to help out struggling taxi drivers
The chief executive of Uber said New York City should impose a fee on app-hailed rides and taxis to help taxi medallion owners who are struggling with debt.
CEO Dara Khosrowshahi told the New York Post on Monday that the city should put the surcharge into a fund to help taxi owners who bought their medallions at sky-high prices. He did not say how much the fee should be.
“In circumstances where medallion owner-operators are having a hard time, where technology has changed and demand patterns has changed their environment, we would support some kind of fee or pool to be formed, a hardship fund, call it,” Khosrowshahi said.
Because taxi drivers in New York City are required to own them, medallions were once extremely valuable and highly coveted because the demand for cabs was stable. But in the years since Uber and similar companies disrupted the industry, a medallion’s value has fallen from as much as $1 million to $200,000.
Drivers working for Uber and other app-based companies don’t need medallions, and many taxi owners who thought their medallions would continue to grow in value say they are now hundreds of thousands of dollars in debt.
Advocates have blamed five apparent suicides of drivers since last November on the taxi industry’s woes.
In the most recent case, yellow cab owner-driver Yu Mein Chow was found floating in the East River last month. The city medical examiner has not determined a cause of death, but Chow’s family members believe he jumped to his death.
A livery cab driver shot himself to death outside City Hall in February after writing a Facebook post blaming politicians for the taxi industry’s decline.
Groups that represent drivers blasted Khosrowshahi’s proposal.
“Dara Khosrowshahi’s proposals are a slap in the face to struggling drivers and an attempt to get out of being regulated,” said Bhairavi Desai, executive director of the New York Taxi Workers Alliance.
The Independent Drivers Guild, which represents Uber drivers, said, Khosrowshahi “needs to address the widespread hardship faced by drivers for his own company before considering taking another cut from our sub-minimum-wage pay.”
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