The 'Taxi King' Cooperating in the Michael Cohen Case Pleaded for a Government Bailout

"We want big poppa paying attention to us," Gene Freidman once told Reason. "I want the government...protecting me."


Evgeny "Gene" Freidman, the flamboyant 46-year-old "Taxi King" of New York and a perennial tabloid muse, has been sued for ripping off drivers, spent time last year in a Chicago prison, and once faced criminal charges for slamming his now ex-wife against a wall.

This recently disbarred Russian immigrant, who in 2013 elicited an angry tirade from former Mayor Michael Bloomberg ("I'm going to destroy your fucking industry"), is now cooperating with federal prosecutors in the case against Michael Cohen, President Donald Trump's personal lawyer, as The New York Times reported yesterday. Freidman managed cabs for Cohen—the embattled attorney had at least 34 medallions to his name—and agreed to talk to investigators as part of a deal to downgrade state charges that he skipped out on $5 million owed to the government, which could have sent him to prison for 25 years.

Freidman, once the owner of an estimated 900 medallions, has had financial difficulties since Uber started upending the city's cab industry. New York medallions, valued at over $1 million apiece as recently as 2014, now sell for about $120,000—mostly through bankruptcy and foreclosure sales.

When Reason interviewed Freidman in 2015, a handful of his taxi garages had just filed for bankruptcy protection and he was angling for a city bailout in the form of loan guarantees for medallions. "We want big poppa paying attention to us," he said. "I want the government interested in me and protecting me….It's a scream for help and a scream by a child for attention."

In April of that year, New York City Council Member Ydanis Rodriguez (D–10th District), chair of the Transportation Committee, participated in a private meeting Friedman arranged with bankers, medallion owners, and politicians to build support for a city bailout. "As medallion values continue to drop, Council Member Rodriguez takes steps to stymie further decline," his press aide announced in a statement at the time. At that private meeting, as the New York Post reported, Rodriguez stated that the city needs to "explore the possibility to pay restitution for those who value in that investment."

Freidman made age-old justifications for government support in his inimitably crude fashion, telling Reason that "our industry brings billions of dollars to funding the MTA, to funding schools, to funding policeman, ambulances, firefighters, and so on." He also took pains to depict the taxi industry as a force for civic good, stating that "my best days" started on September 12, 2001, when people wouldn't employ "people of color or different ethnicities, and they all became taxi drivers." During Ramadan, to help his Muslim drivers "feel great" when breaking fast, Freidman says he provided them with "Subway sandwiches with vegetable[s], tuna, cheese, and chips."

For more on Freidman and how Uber destroyed his business, scroll down to watch "Uber and the Great Taxicab Collapse."

Related: Freidman is cooperating in the Cohen case as part of a deal related to charges that he defrauded the Metropolitan Transportation Authority by pocketing a 50-cent surcharge on every taxi ride that's earmarked to subsidize subways and buses. As Nick Gillespie and I recently argued, schemes of this sort violate a central tenet of good transportation policy, which is that every mode of travel should be self-sustaining. Diverting money from drivers to pay for the subway instead of raising fares is the root cause of transit's problems. For more on that topic, watch "How to Fix New York's Totally F*cked Subway System."

NEXT: Georgia Gubernatorial Race Features First Black Female Nominee and Man Who Pledged to Round Up Immigrants In His Truck: Reason Roundup

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  1. Poppa
    I love when you call me Big Poppa
    Throw your hands in the air if you think you're a playa

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  2. Now here's an interesting contrast:

    "A significant business partner of Michael D. Cohen, President Trump's personal lawyer, has agreed to cooperate with the government as a potential witness, a development that could be used as leverage to pressure Mr. Cohen to work with the special counsel examining Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election."

    ----New York Times (from link in article)

    "Freidman is cooperating in the Cohen case as part of a deal related to charges that he defrauded the Metropolitan Transportation Authority by pocketing a 50-cent surcharge on every taxi ride that's earmarked to subsidize subways and buses."

    ---Reason (above)

    In all seriousness, what does defrauding the Metropolitan Transportation Authority have to do with Mueller's authority to investigate charges that the Trump campaign was colluding with Putin to throw the 2016 presidential election?

    Are we supposed to believe that Mueller was grant unlimited power and an unlimited scope to prosecute whomever he wants for whatever he wants?

    No one expects the Russian Inquisition!!!

    Are we supposed to approve of this because we like creative destruction and we don't like crony capitalism?

    Is there anything disliking crony capitalism won't justify?

    1. Mueller didn't prosecute him. The State of NY did.

      1. At the direction of Mueller. And it wasn't the State of New York. It was the New York US attorney's office.

        1. No it was not the NY US Attorney's office. It was the State of NY. The indictment is No. AG5-8332 if you'd like to look it up yourself. And it's dated June 1, 2017, just a couple weeks after Mueller was appointed. If you have evidence that Mueller directed the indictment, please provide it. Otherwise, shut up and stop making shit up.

          1. Are you talking about the cab guy? Sorry, I thought you meant Cohen, who has not actually been indicted. Yes, the cab guy was indicted by the state. My mistake.

      2. I suppose that's different, but we should be watching for this shit now.

        This wouldn't be the first time Mueller seems to have claimed the authority to go after everything and everybody with any association with someone he wants to indict in the Trump administration--that association being the only limit to his mandate.

        Special counsels need to be accountable to somebody, too--especially in a case like Mueller's where the FBI is practically investigating itself, especially when the FBI is stiff-arming congress, especially when everyone is saying that the president can't or shouldn't hold the special counsel responsible.

        1. P.S. Reading the story, you might think the special counsel were investigating crony capitalism.

          The reason we're reading about this is because of the implications to the Mueller investigation, isn't that right?

    2. There is something inherently corrupt about trading testimony for reduction of penalties in unrelated cases. How is it not bribery? How can you trust the testimony of the trade?

  3. He better rush and hack away at the roots of his demise before it's too late.

  4. "We want big poppa paying attention to us," he said. "I want the government interested in me and protecting me....It's a scream for help and a scream by a child for attention."

    That is a shockingly honest and self-aware description of rent-seeking.

    1. My wife and I were commenting on his resemblance to a weasel this morning.

      1. He looks like a porn theater owner from the '70s, but his words and actions reveal him to be way sleazier than that.

        1. He looks like a guy that would secretly film Paul Reubens masturbating in his theater and sell it to the highest bidder.

          1. I'll bet that one morning he looked at himself in the mirror, saw what he looked like and said something along the lines of "this is me, this is who I am" then decided to go all in on being a ratty bastard.

            1. You are really throwing bouquets around this morning.

              1. If you catch one, Cupid might send an arrow in your direction.

  5. Yeah, this guy wanting subsidies is totally the Libertarian angle to this case. The FBI raiding the office's of an attorney and taking all of his files regardless of attorney client privilege is something that no Libertarian should care about.

    1. It's a libertarian angle.

      1. Sure, but isn't everyone always saying only so many stories can be covered?

    2. I'm on to you now. This is a trick question.

      1. Nope. You have to see them before you can stop falling into them. Try harder.

  6. 46 years old? Life has not been kind to that man's face.

  7. OT: US staffer suffers brain injury after 'sound' incident in China

    Here we go again!

    Canadian and US authorities had initially suspected [in Cuba] a "sonic attack" or a "mass psychosomatic incident", but those are "now considered unlikely", a senior Canadian official said.


    1. Kinda weird how nobody is interested in the possibility that the guy suffered a brain injury which caused him to think he heard a sound.

      1. Yes because if it is something you don't understand, it must be a hoax. Christ, you are an asshole. Really, how the fuck do you know this guy is lying? You don't know anything about this other than you are an asshole and think anything that you can't immediately explain and understand must be a hoax.

        1. You're right, John, head trauma has never caused anyone to hear or see things that don't exist. That ringing in your ears when someone punches you in the face is from a sonic weapon fired from somewhere else.

          I never said the guy was lying, dickhead. I said that they may have cause and effect backwards and nobody appears to be looking at it that way.

          You've got some nerve calling me the asshole here.

    2. If China and Cuba are actually attacking our diplomats via sonic weapons, that is an act of war.

      I hope the USA is reciprocating this aggressive behavior in some manner secretly.

      My understanding is that the CIA used to reciprocate violence if the KGB was violent to US agents outside the USSR. This led to an understanding that the USA would retaliate if "gentlemen rules" were broken by the KGB.

      1. I bet they have some kind of supersonic laser that they shoot from across the street.

        1. How would the laser get past your mom?

      2. There was an explanation researchers found that it is more likely hidden microphones causing interference feedback. They recreated it in the lab too. Makes more sense they were spying attempts.

  8. Uber is destroying the NYC cab industry. Please look away while I shed tears...

    1. I always found the cabs in Manhattan at least to be plentiful and very cheap. Since the rise of uber, it is actually hard to get a cab there sometimes. Meanwhile, Uber always seems to be more expensive than cabs. I guess they are cheaper if you are traveling at off hours, but the whole point of a cab is convenience.

      If the winds of economics work to kill off cabs and replace them with Uber, well so be it. But, I have yet to personally see any advantage to Uber or why people are so in love with it. It is just a fucking cab that costs more and doesn't have a sign on the side of the car. Wow, the miracle of modern technology!!

      1. As someone who takes cabs frequently. Uber is more expensive unless you do ride sharing. But many people prefer Uber which has made getting a regular cab much easier so it works to my advantage.

        Hail Uber!!!

        1. That is true the few times I take a cab in DC. In New York, the last time I was there, I was shocked at how few cabs there were. And the cab drivers told me it was because of Uber.

  9. "...schemes of this sort violate a central tenet of good transportation policy, which is that every mode of travel should be self-sustaining."

    But they are not. None of them are. Our cars would be useless without the roads that they drive on, and the government pays to build and maintain that infrastructure. Yes, I know that roads can be privately financed, but they aren't. Tax money is spent to finance them - money that gets dumped right into the ground without any expectation of return on investment. So no, automotive transport is not self sustaining.

    Given that, don't you think it's a little unfair to criticize subway transport - which actually is partially financed by way of rider shares - for not being fully self sustaining?

    If I'm missing something, please point it out. But this is one area where I continue to think libertarians tend to be short-sighted.

    1. Aaron, last I checked, the vast majority of roads were paid for using gasoline taxes. Many of the rest are paid by registration fees and toll roads.

      It's not perfect, but it's a darn sight closer than most other forms of transport.

      1. But gas taxes are still taxes - payments that we involuntarily make with a purchase. And registration fees are also involuntarily imposed payments. You can call it a fee, but is a tax by any other name not a tax?

        Which means that roads that our cars depend on to get us around are not self-sustaining. They are dependent on involuntary payments for their maintenance and construction.

        Is it not possible that these involuntary payment schemes that sustain our automotive infrastructure - and the fact that they are structured in such a way as to largely remain invisible and unnoticed - could create an artificial advantage for automotive transport over subway transport? Or, at the very least, does this not complicate the picture as to which method of transport is more self-sustaining than the other?

        If there actually were more toll roads, requiring us to actually dig into our pocket and consciously pay every time we used them - as subway riders must do every time they board the train - might subway transport look a lot different by comparison than it does now?

        Once again, if I am missing something elemental here, please point it out.

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