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|Tales Of The Taxi Inspector|
|For some reason in August of 2008 after I
introduced the cell phone-driving ban bill, people
were being referred to blogs on the Post-Dispatch
website. One neighbor of mine was actually referred
there by Mayor Dalton. One comment concerned a court
action and another linked people to Washington Post
articles that featured me and my job as the chief
enforcement officer of the Montgomery County Maryland
Division of Transit, where I investigated and enforced
laws involving taxi and limo companies and drivers.
Montgomery County is Maryland's largest political subdivision. It sits on the north side of Washington, DC. It has just under 1-million residents and such familiar cities and areas as Bethesda, Rockville, Silver Spring, Wheaton, Gaithersburg, Potomac and Chevy Chase.
In 2000, the county finally got legislative permission to hire someone to set up an enforcement and investigative office dealing with transportation for hire. The county had 560 licensed taxicabs run by five companies. They also had a large number of Washington DC cabs and limos operating illegally in the county.
When I took the job, the first thing I had to do was clean up the licensed cabs themselves. I took over 300 of the 560 taxicabs out of service for safety and cleanliness issues. However there was once constant problem and it was the Barwood Taxi Company.
Barwood owned 60% of the taxi licenses and controlled another 12% through affiliation agreements. The owner of Barwood was the only non-Muslim taxi company owner. He was also a former member of the county's Democratic Central Committee. Ninety percent of the citations issued to taxi companies were issued to Barwood. Ninety-six percent of the complaints concerning taxicabs showing up late or not at all were against Barwood. Within three years of being in the job, 90% of the taxicabs taken out of service for safety issues were Barwood Cabs. In 2001 I discovered that the license plates to over 25% of the Barwood taxicabs were suspended.
There was a County Taxi Commission. Members were only allowed to serve two 3-year terms. When I started, the owner of Barwood was on his fourth term. There were always attempts by people in county government above me to reduce enforcement actions directed at Barwood taxis, but Barwood was clearly the problem. The small companies quickly complied with all the laws and regulations, but Barwood offered resistance.
The president of the company would file complaints against me for drinking on the job (I don't drink and haven't since I was 22 years old), working after midnight inspecting cabs and cabdrivers at cabstands, hotels and subway stations. (This complaint so incensed the County Director of Public Works, a retired Army general, that he wrote back thanking Barwood for bringing my excellent work ethic to his attention and that he will not be accepting anymore complaints concerning my job performance.)
However, this brought up the usual question why do they complain so much instead of simply complying with the law? I investigated four shell corporations that used Barwood's address and listed the owner of Barwood as the primary corporate officers. I found that Barwood was registering cabs to the shell corporations to try and apparently insulate Barwood from lawsuits, usually involving auto accidents.
However, I also discovered that the shell corporations (with no actual employees) were being used to funnel campaign contributions in excess of the $5,000 maximum to county and state candidates. The largest recipient of these contributions was the County Executive who was also a candidate for Governor. I reported these violations to the Maryland Campaign Ethics Commission which eventually found Barwood in violation and issued a sizable fine.
These investigations also led to findings where Barwood was illegally obtaining taxicab licenses from dead cab owners and filing false statements of ownership. This led to investigations by the Maryland Attorney Grievance Commission against Barwood's lawyers.
In 2004 while investigating Medicaid and Medicare fraud by Barwood and its drivers I filed charges against a Barwood driver for collecting over $10,000 in cash from a government program to transport people to medical appointments when no appointments ever existed. Barwood got an 8% administrative lug on all Medicaid billing, so they saw 8% off the top of every illegal dollar stolen in a scam. The County's States Attorney dismissed the charges. Barwood and the shell corporations were also funneling campaign contributions to the local prosecutor. This caused me to take my investigations to Federal agents and a driver was later convicted and new investigations were opened.
By the start of 2005 I was filing on average of 450 cases annually in Maryland Courts. They ranged from minor violations to thefts by cabdrivers, to frauds to sexual attacks by cabdrivers on females suffering mental disabilities. In 2004 I helped draft and write a 60-page ordinance overhauling the vehicle-for-hire code. In five years I had been assaulted several times, had a sports jacket torn off my back, been dragged by two cabdrivers, and hit by a cab and a limo. Before Christmas in 2002 a DC cabdriver kidnapped me after I had entered his cab at a County hotel where he was illegally operating. He thought if he could drive 33 blocks at high speed to Washington, DC nothing would happen to him.
Perhaps the most bizarre incident involved a cabdriver whose hack license was being revoked on numerous charges and I was the primary witness against him. He attempted to file a complaint with the courts that I beat him up at the cabstand of a Greyhound Bus station one summer night. However, when he alleged I was slapping him around, I was actually working my second job 40 miles away as a baseball writer in a crowded press box covering a Double-A minor league baseball game.
In the spring of 2005 I was investigating a complaint of a Barwood cabdriver selling drugs to other drivers on the Barwood parking lot. A bureaucrat above me took exception to my investigation. She ordered that my county car and my ability to make my own schedule be taken away.
I always told people that I was "Amos Burke Taxi Inspector." It was a reference to the old ABC television show starring Gene Berry as LA Police homicide captain, Amos Burke, a multi-millionaire who responded to crime scenes in his chauffeur driven Rolls Royce. I of course owned a Toyota Camry and drove around in a government issued Chevrolet, but I had enough money where I did not need the job, especially when management didn't want me to do the best job I could.
I quit the job that I had created five years earlier. I also went to the Washington Post and explained in great detail why I had quit. Now the only problem I had with any of the Post articles was that one incorrectly listed my age as 62, when I was actually 52.
Just in case anyone thinks I am trying to hide from these articles, they are here on this website unedited for your review.
How Bureaucrats Let Political Connections Hurt the Elderly and the Public in General (a John Hoffmann article)