After seeking $17 million in fines, the Daley administration on Tuesday settled for a $1 million penalty from taxicab companies accused of endangering riders by turning wrecks known as “salvaged” vehicles into cabs.
The biggest chunk of the settlement – $839,320 in fines and court costs – will be paid by Chicago Elite Cab Corp. and 63 related companies tied to Symon Garber, the city’s undisputed taxicab kingpin.
Garber is a Russian businessman who was in the cab business in New York when he befriended Mayor Daley’s son Patrick Daley. A few years later, he was at the top of the taxicab heap in Chicago. He operates two fleets of maroon-colored cabs: Chicago Carriage Cab and Royal 3 CCC Chicago Taxi.
Garber, his partner Alexsandr Igolnikov and their associates were accused of illegally using 183 salvaged or rebuilt vehicles as taxicabs.
Since 2005, it has been illegal to use salvaged or rebuilt vehicles as taxicabs on the streets of Chicago – although it’s not illegal for everyday motorists to drive them.
The Sun-Times reported last fall that Garber and his partners were facing $9 million in fines and that the total fines being sought by the city against all cab owners accused of similar offenses approached $17 million.
The settlement announced Tuesday calls for more than 600 “standard fuel vehicles” owned or managed by Garber’s taxi empire to be replaced with a hybrid or alternative fuel vehicle at the time of the next vehicle replacement.
“The fines represent a significant amount of money – and the overall settlement will have a positive impact on the taxi industry in Chicago,” said Norma Reyes, commissioner of the city’s Business Affairs and Consumer Protection Department. “Six hundred new hybrid taxis on the road would reduce CO2 emissions and save taxi drivers on gasoline costs.”
The settlement also calls for expanding “taxi service to people with disabilities,” she said.
Garber was represented by the law firm of Chico & Nunes, whose partners include former mayoral troubleshooter turned failed mayoral candidate Gery Chico.
A second group of cases involves Chicago Taxi Medallion Management and 12 related companies owned by Kahlid Mahmoud. They have agreed to pay $243,901 in fines and court costs after being accused of using 68 salvaged or rebuilt vehicles as taxicabs.
A third group of cases involves Adrian Tudor, who operates Medallion Leasing and Management. The company had 87 salvaged vehicles, most of them part of Globe Taxi’s fleet, according to the city. His cases are still pending.
Last year, nearly 6 percent of Chicago’s 6,800 taxicabs – more than 400 vehicles – were yanked off the streets because they were salvaged.
The city probe was launched in the wake of a Sun-Times investigation and after a city inspector noticed during a regular, semiannual inspection that a cab was in “very poor” condition for its age and mileage.
Since then, the city has added two new vehicle requirements: an original title and a Carfax report. including vehicle history.