A.G. Schneiderman Secures Judgment Against Morrisonville Cab Operator For Deceptive And Exploitative Practices Targeting Refugees Fleeing The U.S.

News from Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman

May 10, 2017

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Northern Taxi Engaged In Deceptive Practices And Price Gouging Against Vulnerable Refugees Fleeing Across The Border Into Canada – Overcharging Refugees By Hundreds Of Dollars And Refusing To Provide A Rate In Advance

Court Order Requires Northern Taxi To Change Business Practices, Pay Penalties And Costs 

AG Also Reaches Settlements With C&L Taxi And Town Taxi

Schneiderman: Frightened And Desperate People Are The Number One Target Of Scammers – But We Won’t Hesitate To Crack Down On Those Taking Advantage Of The Climate Of Fear

Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman today announced a court judgment against Northern Taxi and its owner and operator, Christopher Crowningshield, for repeatedly violating state and local laws as he took advantage of refugees fleeing the United States by charging as much as $300 or more for a taxi ride from Plattsburgh to Canadian border, normally a $50 to $75 fare.

Crowningshield is required by the order to make changes in Northern Taxi’s business practices to ensure that all customers are quoted fares ahead of time and are not overcharged for trips to the border.  He also must pay the Attorney General $2,500 in penalties and costs.

“It’s no secret that we’ve seen intense fear in immigrant communities across New York in recent months. To take advantage of that fear for financial gain is simply unconscionable,” said Attorney General Schneiderman. “Unfortunately, frightened and desperate people are the number one target of scammers. My office won’t hesitate to crack down on those seeking to take advantage of this climate of fear – and I urge anyone who suspects that they are the victim of a scam or price gouging to contact my office.”

Attorney General Schneiderman, having heard troubling reports that Plattsburgh-area taxicab drivers were taking advantage of refugees fleeing the United States for Canada, commenced an investigation into the procedures of local taxi companies. As part of the investigation, an investigator from the Attorney General’s Rochester Regional Office was dropped off at Plattsburgh’s Greyhound bus depot just after a bus from New York City had arrived. The investigator handed the cab driver a note indicating that she wanted to go to a specific point where one can walk across the border into Canada.

Christopher Crowningshield, who owns and drives for Northern Taxi, agreed to take the investigator to the border, but he repeatedly refused to answer her inquiries as to what the fare would be; no rates were posted on his vehicle. Only after the investigator was in his cab and they were on Interstate 87 heading toward the border did Mr. Crowningshield tell her that he was charging her $200.

In a Petition filed last week in New York State Supreme Court in Clinton County, Attorney General Schneiderman alleged that Crowningshield repeatedly violated General Business Law 396-p, which requires that rates be conspicuously posted in every taxicab. A core purpose of the taxicab rate-posting law is to keep unscrupulous operators from taking advantage of vulnerable individuals.

Crowningshield was ordered to pay $2,500 in penalties and costs. In addition, the order requires him to conspicuously post rates, quote them in advance, and charge only reasonable fares for travel to the border: no more than 10 times the maximum fare for cab rides in the City of Plattsburgh. The top fare now permitted in Plattsburgh is $7.75; the maximum fare to the border cannot exceed $77.50.

As part of the investigation, the Attorney General’s investigator also took two other cab rides from Plattsburgh to the border with other taxicab companies. She was charged $100 by a driver from C & L Taxi and $85 by a driver with Town Taxi and Medical Transport, Inc.

Outside of cities, taxicab rates in New York are not set by law. However, New York State General Business Law §396-p requires that each taxicab have a listing of all rates and charges conspicuously posted within the vehicle. None of the taxicabs which took the investigator to the border had rates posted anywhere in the vehicle. A few days after the undercover operation, another investigator checked other taxicab vehicles from Northern Taxi, C & L Taxi, and Town Taxi; these vehicles also lacked any posted rates.

Additionally, all cabs inspected in the course of this investigation are licensed by the City of Plattsburgh, which sets maximum rates for travel within the City and requires conspicuous posting of zone maps and rate charts. The Northern and C & L taxicab vehicles inspected failed to comply with the City of Plattsburgh’s posting requirements.

Executive Law §63(12) empowers the Attorney General, on behalf of the People of the State of New York, to bring a summary proceeding seeking injunctive relief, restitution, damages, and costs when any person or entity has engaged in repeated fraudulent or illegal acts or practices or has otherwise engaged in persistent fraud or illegality in conducting its business. General Business Law §349 prohibits deceptive business practices and empowers the Attorney General to seek injunctive relief when violations occur. General Business Law §350 empowers the attorney general to seek penalties for violations of GBL §349.

Owner/operators for all three cab services admitted to not posting rates as required by law. Christopher Crowningshield of Northern Taxi admitted that he regularly charged different fares to the very same location depending upon who he was transporting, and in some cases charged as much as $300 for a ride to the location near the Canadian border crossing.

C & L Taxi, operated by Gail Seymour of Morrisonville, also entered into a settlement agreement with the Attorney General. She will pay $900 in penalties, conspicuously post fares, and limit fares to the border to the same $77.50. Town Taxi and Medical Transport, Inc., operated by Victor Pizarro of Plattsburgh, was fined $350. Although in technical violation of the fare-posting law, Town Taxi and Pizarro cooperated fully with the AG’s investigation and promptly brought their cabs into compliance with state law.

This case was handled by Glen Michaels, Assistant Attorney General in Charge of the Plattsburgh Regional Office, under the direction of Marty Mack, Executive Deputy Attorney General for the Division of Regional Offices. Investigative work was carried out by Investigator Michelle Ortiz, Investigator Justin Rebideau, and Investigator Clint DuMoulin of the Attorney General’s Investigations Division, under the supervision of Investigator Harry Czosnykowski, Investigator Ken Peters, and Deputy Chief Investigator Jonathan Wood. The Investigations Division is led by Chief Dominick Zarrella.

In November 2016 and again in February 2017, Attorney General Schneiderman issued fraud alerts, warning New Yorkers against immigration-related scams. Attorney General Schneiderman encourages New Yorkers to review these key tips and contact his office to report any issues.