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."