FBI questions Charlotte Douglas Airport taxicab deal in corruption probe

FBI questions Charlotte Douglas Airport taxicab deal in corruption probe

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by STUART WATSON / NBC Charlotte

Bio | Email | Follow: @stuartwcnc

WCNC.com

Posted on May 23, 2014 at 5:56 PM

Updated Friday, May 23 at 8:00 PM

CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- The FBI is apparently expanding its corruption probe involving ex-mayor Patrick Cannon into the lucrative and controversial taxicab deal at the Charlotte Douglas Airport. Cannon was arrested two months ago on bribery and corruption charges stemming from allegations that he accepted tens of thousands of dollars in cash from an undercover FBI agent. 

 
As a member of Charlotte City Council, Cannon chaired the Public Safety committee that oversaw taxicab licensing and as a business owner at EZ Parking, he served on the board of the Hospitality and Tourism Alliance (HTA). The operators of two cab companies, Universal and Checker, accused the HTA’s president of demanding $5,000 memberships in exchange for spots at the airport. 
 
HTA President Mohammad Jenatian has consistently denied this. But there’s little question that the cab companies that lost positions at the airport lost money. 
 
Three years ago, Checker Cab picked up passengers at Charlotte Douglas Airport. But then the airport cut the number of cab companies from 12 to three. 
 
Checker lost. And now, Checker's closed. 
 
“I have suffered direct harm and it's really hit home with me in my conversations with other cab owners,” said former Checker operator Frank Hinson. “They tell me there right on the verge of failing.”
 
Cabbies say being shut out of airport business costs them real money and some say they can verify precisely what it cost them. 
 
“It cost me $450,000 a year,” said Mohamed Moustafa, owner of Universal Cab Company. “That's not all I lost. I lost the goodwill of the peoples.” 
 
Moustafa and Hinson complained for years they lost the airport deal because they refused to pay $5,000 each to Mohammad Jenatian to join the politically powerful Hospitality and Tourism Alliance (HTA), of which Jenatian was president.
 
Jenatian has consistently denied that he tied membership to the airport deal. 
 
“The fix was in, in my opinion,” said Hinson. “The companies that are at the airport are HTA affiliates. It does not take rocket science put two and two together.” 
 
When I asked Cannon in 2011 if the HTA got clout at city hall in part because of his presence on its board, Cannon responded:
 
“Absolutely not and let me tell you exactly why. One is that Patrick Cannon is there by way of his company. His private business. He's not there by way of his public hat that he wears.”
 
Three years later the FBI arrested Cannon for taking bribes. 
 
Now the FBI has interviewed the operator of Diamond Cab, which also lost the airport deal, as reported first this morning in the Charlotte Observer.       
 
“I will fight this to the last day of my life; it's not about politics. It's only about business,” said Moustafa. 
 
Charlotte spokesman Keith Richardson said the city is cooperating with the federal investigation. 
 
The cabbies don't think the corruption began or ended with Patrick Cannon. 
 
Hinson said, “I hope they get everybody.”  

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