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JFK dispatchers charged in ‘reprehensible’ bribery scheme to let cabbies skip passenger pick-up line: authorities

No fare.

Nine taxi dispatchers at John F. Kennedy airport participated in a “reprehensible” scheme in which they took thousands of dollars in bribes from cabbies who wanted to cut the passenger pick-up line, Queens authorities charged.

The Port Authority started receiving complaints in 2022 that some of the dispatchers were accepting cash from drivers who wanted to skip to the front of the line in the central holding area so that they could more efficiently pick up fares.

The payments were usually less than $20 each and were made in cash, made in cash, or via CashApp or Zelle, according to the Queens District Attorney’s Office.

Nine dispatchers at John F. Kennedy airport are accused of taking bribes so taxi drivers could cut the line to pick up passengers. AFP via Getty Images
Nine dispatchers at John F. Kennedy airport are accused of taking bribes so taxi drivers could cut the line to pick up passengers. AFP via Getty Images

Between January 2022 and February 2024, the nine defendants allegedly pocketed more than $12,000 in bribes total. Four of them accepted more than $1,000 in bribes each, and are now facing first-degree felony charges of commercial bribe receiving.

“As if the challenges of making a living as a yellow cab driver were not already enough, the cabbies at JFK had to overcome greed and corruption in their effort to put food on the table for themselves and their families,” DA Melinda Katz said in a statement Monday.

“We will not let that stand.”

Dispatchers at JFK oversee how taxis move from a central holding lot to the different terminal pickup areas.

The dispatchers are expected to ensure yellow cabs leave the holding area in the order in which they arrive, and in a way that avoids congestion, while making sure that every passenger can get a cab.

It’s not the first time dispatchers or drivers have been accused of trying to game the system at the international airport.

Queens cabbies Daniel Abayev, 47, and Peter Layman, 49, were sentenced to four and two years in prison, respectively, in February over a scheme in which they charged drivers $10 a pop to skip the queue, according to federal prosecutors.

Nine dispatchers at John F. Kennedy airport are accused of taking bribes so taxi drivers could cut the line to pick up passengers. Gabriella Bass
Nine dispatchers at John F. Kennedy airport are accused of taking bribes so taxi drivers could cut the line to pick up passengers. Gabriella Bass

The pair had admitted to working with Russian hackers to breach the JFK taxi dispatch system and help their fellow drivers skip to the front of the pick-up line.

The suspects in the more recent case include Queens residents: Jovane Johnson, 21; Tuwayne Coley, 22; Jairo Sarmiento, 23; Satesh Sooklall, 34; George Brown, 39; Saeed Ahmed, 61; and Yolanda Rodriguez, 67. Also charged were Brooklyn residents Adrian Grullon, 32, and Joseph Woodward, 56.

They were all arraigned in Queens Criminal Court on Monday on charges including second-degree commercial bribe receiving, official misconduct and receiving unlawful gratuities.

An arrest warrant has also been obtained for an unidentified 10th dispatcher, prosecutors said.

The dispatchers are expected to ensure the taxis leave the holding area in the order in which they arrive, and in a way that avoids congestion while ensuring that every passenger can get a cab.
The dispatchers are expected to ensure the taxis leave the holding area in the order in which they arrive, and in a way that avoids congestion while ensuring that every passenger can get a cab.

Nicholas Dayan, who represents Ahmed, Rodriguez, Sarmiento and Woodward, said his clients are “hard-workers” who make minimum wages from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.

“Ultimately, I think this case will resolve itself,” he said.

Taxi and Limousine Commission Chair David Do called the profiteering a “reprehensible bribery scheme.”

“More than 90% of our drivers are immigrants, and many of them came here to avoid exactly this kind of corruption in their native lands,” he said in a statement.

“Public safety and playing by the rules are precursors for prosperity, and that goes for drivers, too.,” Do said.

“Any time we learn of drivers bribing dispatchers or operating illegally, we will revoke their licenses.”