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Manchester officials nab five illegal taxis in sting operation

New Hampshire Union Leader

April 08. 2013 10:55PM

MANCHESTER - With most taxis grounded over maintenance issues, city police and licensing officials nabbed five gypsy or otherwise illegal cabs Friday in a sting operation, officials said.

The culprits included an airport limousine service and a young woman who used her personal car as a taxi, said Kevin Kincaid, director of licensing and enforcement for the city Clerk's Office.

As part of the sting, police used websites such as Craigslist and telephone searches to find a cab.

"They called the numbers, people showed up," he said. "If we're going to crack down on the licensed ones, we should crack down on the unlicensed ones, too."

But the owner of Amoskeag Airport Service said he was doing nothing wrong and has hired a lawyer to fight the $200 citation he received, as well as regain the Honda Accord that authorities confiscated.

Gerry Mendelbaum, owner of Amoskeag Airport Service, said his limousine company is licensed through the U.S. Transportation Department and operates legitimately. He said his company continued to handle fares in Manchester on Monday. He called city taxi ordinances outdated.

"I think they (city officials) purposely inspected the cabs on the week they wanted to sting unlicensed car services because the need would be there," Mendelbaum said.

Last week, authorities held a surprise inspection of all taxis operating out of the city's two licensed cab companies, Queen City Taxi and Manchester Taxi Dispatch. All taxis in the city were grounded for about a day.

The companies made repairs and are still restoring their fleet.

On Monday morning, Kincaid said Queen City had seven cabs licensed and on the road; Manchester Dispatch had four. Each company expected to add an additional two cabs by Tuesday.

Kincaid said the sting operation involved police calling from hotels or the Mall of New Hampshire. Once a plain-clothes officer entered the cab, a police cruiser pulled it over and the drivers were ticketed.

Two of the three citations involved repeat offenders, Kincaid said.

Two warnings were issued, one to a woman in her 20s who was using her Kia as a taxi.

Such gypsy cabs lack the proper insurance and protections such as random drug testing of drivers, background checks, vehicle inspection and a safety barrier between the driver and the back seat, he said.

"That's crazy," Kincaid said. Police gave the young woman a "fatherly lecture," he said.

The three citations went to:

--Nicholas Meuse, 27, who was driving an Amoskeag Airport Service car.

--David Karpetya, 44, who was driving a DK Airport Service car.

--Richard Fillion, 52, a Maine resident who was using his pickup truck for fares.

Kincaid said the operators charged fares outside the city's regulated rates. One wanted $40 for a ride from the mall to downtown Manchester, another charged $15 for the same trip.

He said Mendelbaum operated a taxi company, Town and Country Taxi, which surrendered its license in 2011 after Mendelbaum did not provide proof of workers compensation insurance.

Mendelbaum said he has been in business since 1994, and the DOT license grants him rights to operate both in-state and interstate.

He said the one difference between his business and the taxi business is that passengers can't hail his cabs from a street; they have to be ordered by telephone.

Kincaid said the DOT license only applies to transportation between states, and Amoskeag Airport needs a taxi medallion if it is going to operate within the city.

State law defines a taxi cab as a vehicle that holds seven or fewer persons, and is used "in the call and demand transportation of passengers" from one location to another, as determined by the customer. They do not operate on a fixed schedule or between fixed locations.

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