Elizabeth Murphy, the controversial head of White Tiger Transportation Co., has lost her bid to become the first woman head of a trucking company with nationwide freight-hauling authority.
The decision by the Interstate Commerce Commission, which found her "unfit" for the nationwide authority, will effectively put her out of business, according to commission sources, despite her successful and expanding trucking operations of a more limited nature over the last four years.
On its face, the decision appears to be inconsistent with recent commission and congressional moves to liberalize entry into the trucking industry. It is especially at odds with an ICC decision last year to award a three-year operating certificate for nationwide authority to an applicant whose past operations were fraught with fraud.
In the case of White Tiger, the ICC concluded that a "broad pattern of serious violative behavior, coupled with meager evidence of mitagating circumstances and questionable remedial efforts, demonstrates a flagrant and persistent disregard for regulation and evinces an inability on its part to comport in the future with the provisions of the act and the commission's regulations.
"We believe that a finding of unfitness is warranted in the circumstances," it said.
The charges made against White Tiger during the hearing on its application -- which was fought by dozens of the nation's largest trucking firms -- varied: -
The nature and size of the truck fleet was misrepresented. Murphy said she included leased equipment when the rules apparently call for including only owned equipment.
She carried some goods outside the geographical limits of her authority, and some of the goods weren't on her authorized list.
She misrepresented the "dedication" of her equipment. As a contract carrier, truck must be "dedicated" to the shipper, not just be "available" for use when the shipper needs freight moved.
Trip leasing forms were filled out, incorrectly and an application contained a forged notary signature.
The company may have been connected illegally to another regulated trucking company.
Murphy admitted she made mistakes that violated the commission's rules but attributed the violations to inexperience, ignorance, confusion regarding the scope and duration of her certificates, inadequate advice and the incompetence of employes rather than to a knowing, intentional or willful disregard for regulations.
But the agency's decision -- made by two members of a three-man panel -- rejected the evidence of mitigating circumstances as "lacking in substance and unconvincing." Although White Tiger had taken certain corrective steps, such as reorganizing the staff and instituting a compliance program -- and hasn't had a violation in two years -- the division said "the sincerity of its efforts remains in doubt."
The decision relied on the two-year-old record in the case, refusing to accept from White Tiger an updated compliance report, equipment list and balance sheet.
Although accompanied by a full-commission decision denying certain motions, the "fitness" decision made by the panel leaves Murphy one avenue left -- to appeal to the full commission for review on the grounds that issues of such transportation importance are raised that a full commission should vote on her application.
She said she will appeal.
She is likely to have two votes on the commission -- Chairman Darius Gaskins, who voted to grant her relief on the procedural decision, and member Tad Trantum, who was the lone vote for her nationwide authority with a two or three-year term. He found no persuasive evidence that White Tiger's continued operation is likely to endanger the public.
"Applicant's service must indeed be good," he wrote. "The majority of its violations suggest that White Tiger simply attempted to provide its customers with a more complete service than had been authorized by the commission."
Sources familiar with the case contended the decision contrasts sharply with a decision made by the commission last October to give Ebony Messenger Service a three-year limited certificate despite its finding of significant "fraudulent activities."
In that case, the owner of the company had no legal operating authority. He had visited the ICC office, made copies of an authorized carrier's certificate and tariffs, altered them to make them appear as his company's and engage in illegal operations transporting a wide variety of commodities for several years.
He periodically added service points and charges to his falsified documents, the commission said. He represented himself and his company to customers and government officials under different names, refused to allow commission personnel to review his operating records at first and destroyed falsified documents.
Nevertheless, the company won a broad grant of authority." Applicant's past conduct, even if deemed willful in nature, does not necessarily preclude a grant of operating authority," the commission wrote in that case.
Citing the other case yesterday, Murphy charged that the commission was operating on a double standard. "I don't believe it's a case against White Tiger anymore; I think it's a case against Elizabeth Eleanor Murphy," she said.