New York police announced Wednesday that they had solved the case of an 850-foot taxi ride that cost a passenger $464.
Because of the persistence of a police sergeant, the passenger also got his money back.
On Aug. 16, Anthony Alugube, a 23-year-old student from Nigeria, arrived at Kennedy Airport on his way to attend college in California. Alugube hailed a cab at the British Airways terminal and showed the driver a note asking that he be taken to the Trans World Airlines passenger terminal for the connecting flight to the West Coast.
When the cab stopped, Alugube handed the driver a traveler's check for 100 British pounds and waited for his change. None came. Instead, the cabbie asked for another 100-pound traveler's check, announcing that he had not been paid enough for the ride. The student complied, and the cabbie pocketed $464 for what would nomally have been a $4 trip.
It was not until Alugube mentioned the experience to friends at Merced Community College in Merced, Calif., that he realized the extent to which he had been bilked. He was urged to contact the Merced police, which he did, and the officers passed on Alugube's complaint to the New York Port Authority Police.
The case was assigned to Sgt. Herman McAuley, a 10-year veteran of the force, who asked Alugube to furnish a description of the cabbie. The student said the driver was heavyset and drove a brown taxi.
"We had the time, the date and the terminal and we knew it was a New York City medallion cab," McAuley said. "We had a basic idea who it was. We know the cab drivers out here. There are 1,000 drivers who work the airport steadily. You begin to know them. Out of the thousand, there are maybe 1 percent that give you a problem. We knew the operation, the scam, the modus operandi."
McAuley studied the drivers who regularly wait outside the British Airways Terminal to pick up passengers arriving on the morning flight from Nigeria. One cabbie fit Alugube's description. The sergeant called the driver in for questioning and photograhping.
Port Authority Police sent the cabbie's picture and the photos of four other men of the same general description to Alugube. McAuley asked the student to mark one of the photos if he positively identified the suspect. The picture of the cabbie who regularly worked the terminal came back with an "X" on the back.
When the taxi driver was again called in for questioning, he brought his lawyer with him. And when McAuley told the dirver that Alugube had positively identified him, the cabbie and the lawyer quickly conferred. The driver than asked if he could make restitution to Alugube.
When the cab driver, whose name was withheld by police, returned with a money order for $460 -- the amount of the traveler's checks minus the real fare -- McAuley went to the mail box with him, just to make sure that the refund actually was sent.
The police sergeant said Alugube, who feared that he might have to drop out of college unless he received the funds, could not afford to return to New York to press charges against the driver. An investigation was continuing to see if the cabbie was accused of any other incident of overcharging.
Several days after the check was mailed, McAuley and the Port Authority Police received a letter from Alugube.
"I am highly delighted to write you to inform you that the check is under my control," Alugube said. "In fact, I cannot find enough words to express my gratitude. Accept my many thanks."