Welcome to Durham, errh... Mahrud! The City where innocent players were falsely accused of a crime which never happened, where angry marchers opined over the non-injuries of an "exotic" dancer while she stripped at a local club, where the PD violated its own procedures openly and the Chief defended a line up as it wasn't a real line up, where notes were written months later, where exculpatory evidence was hidden by the DA & PD, where criminals are let loose over & over again, and now Heroes are harassed.
On March 27, 2008 Durham resident Moezeldin Elmostafa was awarded Reader’s Digest Hero of the Year on the national Today show. Two weeks later he has turned in his cab permits in a dispute with the City.
Durham Herald-Sun reporter Ray Gronberg reported on this latest of Bizzaro events.
DURHAM -- A taxi company co-owned by a figure in the Duke University lacrosse case has turned in its city-issued permits in the wake of a run-in with administrators and a regulatory board.
Moezeldin Elmostafa said Friday evening that his company, On Time Taxi & Transportation, gave up its three taxi permits last week because it wants to focus on shuttle and limousine services that aren't as tightly regulated by the city.
The taxi business -- which the city views as being different from shuttle services -- "is too much of a headache," he said.
The company's decision followed a November move by the city to revoke the three permits, in response to complaints from other taxi operators who alleged the firm was unfairly competing with them for the business of Duke students.
A city administrator agreed with the complaint, and so in December did the members of Durham's Passenger Vehicle for Hire Commission. They held that officials should strip the company of its right to operate three taxis in the city.
Elmostafa's company appealed the ruling to the City Council, and was going to receive partial support from administrators who doubted the chances of sustaining a move against the company in court.
City Manager Patrick Baker had recommended that elected officials ask the Passenger Vehicle for Hire Commission to reconsider its decision.
He reasoned that the enforcement of the city's tax regulations has been uneven enough through the years that a judge might not see a move against the company as being fair.
In addition, officials felt revocation of the permits "may have been a harsh penalty" for the alleged violation, said Mark Ahrendsen, the city's transportation manager.
But any move against the company is fraught with risk for the city because of Elmostafa's role in the Duke lacrosse case. He was an alibi witness for Reade Seligmann, one of three lacrosse players falsely accused two years ago of rape.
Elmostafa was going to testify, with backing from photos and receipts, that Seligmann and another lacrosse player, Robert Wellington, were in his vehicle on the way to an ATM, a restaurant and their dorm when the rape supposedly occurred.
His potential testimony became controversial as soon as his name surfaced when police responded by arresting him on a 3-year-old shoplifting warrant. A lawyer for the cabbie, Tom Loflin, labeled the move an act of retaliation.
The shoplifting charge went to trial, and Elmostafa was found not guilty of helping a woman steal merchandise from Northgate Mall.
The city is now facing three federal civil-rights lawsuits in connection with its handling of the lacrosse case. Elmostafa isn't a party to any of them, but all three echo Loflin's original claim and count it among the city's misdeeds.
Ahrendsen said Elmostafa's role in the lacrosse case was "something we were aware of" but that "really didn't have a bearing on our initial action" on the permits.
"I don't think there's a relation to the lacrosse case," he said when asked Friday if he thought officials were targeting him over that continuing controversy. "This is going in a different direction."
The permit dispute stems from the fact that in the city's eyes, Elmostafa's company was both a taxi operator and a shuttle service.
Under Durham law, shuttles can only take people on a "pre-arranged trip," meaning that clients have to call for a pick-up and that the ride has a fixed price, Ahrendsen said.
Taxis use meters to charge by the mile, or by the minute of waiting time, and have the right to loiter at the curb outside hotels, motels and other places.
Only the vehicles for which On Time had city taxi medallions had the right to wait at the curb for business at Duke, but some of the company's competitors felt it was playing fast and loose with the rules by allowing drivers of its 12 shuttles to join in.
An Ahrendsen subordinate, Gracie Chamblee, said in a memo that she caught three On Time shuttle drivers doing just that on Nov. 21, as students were leaving for the Thanksgiving holiday.
Ahrendsen said taxi companies don't like shuttle operators because they don't "go through the same regulatory process as taxis" and don't have the same financial burdens.
Many economists, however, see permit systems like Durham's as being little more than a racket designed to stifle competition. The most famous medallion system, New York City's, dates from the Depression and was expressly designed to reduce the number of taxis on the road.
Durham law allows officials to issue up to 180 taxi permits, but at most recent count it had given out only 139. Local taxi operators have asked administrators not to issue more than that, Ahrendsen said. Herald-Sun