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Who’s your taxi driver?

Under state Public Regulation Commission rules, there is no off-duty crime  that disqualifies someone from driving a taxi in New Mexico.

Under state Public Regulation Commission rules, there is no off-duty crime that disqualifies someone from driving a taxi in New Mexico.

Copyright © 2015 Albuquerque Journal

Albuquerque taxi drivers have arrest records that include assault with a deadly weapon, false imprisonment, robbery, burglary, domestic violence, identity theft, drug trafficking and other crimes, a Journal investigation found. At least 10 drivers have been arrested for drunken driving.

The investigation also found that state law and regulations are meaningless when it comes to taxi driver backgrounds for anything that happens off the job. While the Public Regulation Commission requires cab companies to conduct national criminal background checks of drivers, under PRC rules there is no off-duty crime – including a sex offense – that disqualifies someone from driving a taxi in New Mexico.

Although cab companies are required to conduct annual checks of their drivers’ Motor Vehicle Division records, a DWI arrest or conviction doesn’t disqualify a person from driving a taxi as long as the offense occurred off the job and the license has been restored.

Cab companies say that, in some cases, they were unaware of the prior driver arrests identified by the Journal and that, in others, they have taken action. Overall, the companies say they are committed to providing a safe experience for their customers.

Steve Abraham, president of Yellow Checker Cab, showed the Journal criminal background and driving record checks for three drivers identified by the Journal as having been arrested for DWI. The checks didn’t show the arrests.  (Roberto E. Rosales/Albuquerque Journal)

Steve Abraham, president of Yellow Checker Cab, showed the Journal criminal background and driving record checks for three drivers identified by the Journal as having been arrested for DWI. The checks didn’t show the arrests. (Roberto E. Rosales/Albuquerque Journal)

“I would trust my daughter, my wife, myself in the cars with the drivers, absolutely,” said Yellow Checker Cab president Steve Abraham.

The Journal obtained lists totaling 174 drivers for Yellow Checker, Albuquerque Cab and ABQ Green Cab that had been filed with the PRC. At least 92 of the drivers had no arrest records for serious crimes or DWI, but at least 25 did. The Journal was unable to make a determination on the rest, in large part because of insufficient identifying information for drivers.

Arrests for the 25 included:

  • A driver charged with aggravated assault with a deadly weapon in 2013 and DWI in 2015. Both cases were put on hold pending a mental evaluation of the driver. Albuquerque Cab said the driver is no longer on the road, instead working in a desk job. The company also said the aggravated assault charge will be dismissed because the man acted in self-defense.
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  • A driver who pleaded guilty to DWI in 2010 in Las Cruces and who had been arrested in New Mexico in 2007 as a fugitive from justice in Colorado, where he had been charged with robbery and theft. The driver waived extradition and pleaded guilty to theft in Colorado. It was at least the fourth time he had been charged with theft in Colorado and pleaded guilty. Albuquerque Cab said the driver is no longer employed there. The driver had also worked for ABQ Green Cab.
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  • A driver who was indicted in 2010 on charges of forgery, identify theft, fraud and attempted fraud. He was accused of falsifying bank checks of others to obtain money and pleaded guilty to forgery in a deal with prosecutors. The driver was also indicted in 2009 for cocaine possession (dismissed by prosecutors) and pleaded guilty to burglary of an automobile in 1980. Albuquerque Cab said the man has been a good driver without discipline problems or complaints.
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  • A driver charged in 2014 with domestic violence (dismissed), in 2007 with DWI second offense (dismissed), in 2004 with possession with intent to distribute a controlled substance (pleaded guilty), in 2001 with domestic violence (dismissed), in 2001 with possession of cocaine and other offenses (pleaded guilty to contributing to the delinquency of a minor) and in 2000 with DWI (pleaded no contest). ABQ Green Cab said the man remains a driver.
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  • A driver who pleaded guilty to DWI in 2008. The driver had also been arrested for DWI in 2005, but the case was dismissed because the prosecutor didn’t show up for a court hearing due to illness. ABQ Green Cab said the man is still driving for the company.
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  • A driver who pleaded guilty to DWI in 2000 and who in 1993 was arrested in the robbery of a convenience store. He agreed to plead guilty to conspiracy to commit robbery. Yellow Checker said it has had no problems with the man and he remains on the job.
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  • One of the drivers for ABQ Green Cab was arrested last year for failure to obey a police officer. The officer said the driver was going 65 mph in a 35-mph zone near Albuquerque International Sunport and refused to stop until he dropped off passengers. The driver was permitted to enter a pre-prosecution diversion program. ABQ Green Cab said it stopped using the driver after the incident. (Roberto E. Rosales/Albuquerque Journal)

    One of the drivers for ABQ Green Cab was arrested last year for failure to obey a police officer. The officer said the driver was going 65 mph in a 35-mph zone near Albuquerque International Sunport and refused to stop until he dropped off passengers. The driver was permitted to enter a pre-prosecution diversion program. ABQ Green Cab said it stopped using the driver after the incident. (Roberto E. Rosales/Albuquerque Journal)

    A driver who in 2014 was charged with marijuana possession (dismissed after the man met pre-prosecution conditions), in 2011 with aggravated assault and false imprisonment (dismissed), in 2011 with aggravated assault and false imprisonment (dismissed), and in 2010 with domestic violence, child abuse, aggravated assault with a deadly weapon and using a telephone to terrify (dismissed). ABQ Green Cab said it canceled the driver’s contract after he had a confrontation with a second cabbie.

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  • A driver arrested for DWI in 2013. A judge dismissed the case after prosecutors failed to respond to a defense motion to suppress an officer’s video and related evidence. ABQ Green Cab said the person is no longer a driver.
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  • A driver who in 2014 was arrested for using a telephone to terrify (dismissed), in 1998 for possession of marijuana with intent to distribute (guilty), in 1991 for domestic violence (dismissed) and in 1984 for DWI (guilty). ABQ Green Cab said the man worked only briefly for the company and was let go after it became aware of his record.
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  • A driver who was arrested in 2008 for marijuana possession (dismissed) and last year was arrested while driving a taxi for failure to obey a police officer. The officer said the driver was going 65 mph in a 35-mph zone near Albuquerque International Sunport and refused to stop until he dropped off passengers. The driver was permitted to enter a pre-prosecution diversion program. ABQ Green Cab said it stopped using the driver after the incident.
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  • Ten other drivers arrested for domestic violence from 1990 to 2014. Six of the cases were dismissed, including one because a driver completed an early intervention program. Two drivers were found not guilty of domestic violence, one pleaded no contest and one pleaded guilty.

On their annual reports filed this year with the PRC, Yellow Checker Cab, Albuquerque Cab and ABQ Green Cab listed the names of a total of 174 drivers. Annual reports also list driver’s license numbers.

However, all but the last four digits of a driver’s license number are protected as personal identifier information under state law. That meant the Journal had only a name of a driver and the last four digits of that person’s driver’s license number to conduct a criminal background check.

In large part because of the limited identifier information for taxi drivers, it wasn’t feasible to check the criminal backgrounds of 38 cabbies, including those with common names.

After eliminating drivers who had no arrests for serious crimes or DWI listed in the online system of New Mexico courts, the Journal identified 51 drivers for additional background checks, including examination of court case files. At least 25 of the 51 had arrest records, at least seven didn’t, and no determination was made on the remaining 19 because of insufficient identifying information for drivers and other factors. Moving motor vehicle violations other than those for DWI weren’t examined.

The review of court records by the Journal revealed that Yellow Checker Cab, Albuquerque Cab and ABQ Green Cab all used drivers who have been arrested for DWI. None of the arrests appeared to have occurred while a driver was on duty.

During a state Senate committee hearing in March on an unsuccessful bill that would have been favorable to ride-booking companies like Uber and Lyft, cab company representatives were asked how many of their drivers had been arrested for DWI.

Michael Cadigan, a lawyer for Albuquerque Cab, responded that the company’s drivers were checked using the New Mexico courts online system and that no DWI arrests were found. Abraham of Yellow Checker testified that, to his knowledge, none of his drivers had been arrested for DWI. “We do not take people … if they’ve had a DWI 25 years ago,” Abraham told the Senate Judiciary Committee.

In a recent interview, Abraham said he didn’t knowingly mislead the committee. He showed criminal background and driving record checks for three drivers identified by the Journal as having been arrested for DWI. The checks didn’t show the arrests. Two of the arrests resulted in dismissals, the third a guilty plea.

Cadigan said last week that, at a prior legislative hearing, there was an accusation that 60 percent of taxi drivers had DWI convictions or sex offenses.

“The company checked nmcourts.gov and the sex offender website, and found none of their approximately 50 drivers employed at the time had a DWI conviction or were registered sex offenders,” the lawyer said in an email.

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