New York Times
By Liz Robbins
May 10, 2017
For the last several months, the route north has been marked by desperation. Migrants lacking legal status in the United States have been fleeing to Canada by taking buses to Plattsburgh, N.Y., and then hailing taxis to a country road that dead-ends in an unofficial border crossing.
It is a 25-mile cab ride to a new life, for which the going rate is $50 to $75. But one cabdriver was charging $100 to $300 in cash, depending on his mood. And his passengers were not in a position to complain.
But after a two-month investigation into the price-gouging practices of several taxi companies ferrying passengers to the border in Champlain, N.Y., the New York State attorney general, Eric T. Schneiderman, is to announce on Wednesday that he has obtained a court order against Christopher Ray Crowningshield, the owner and operator of Northern Taxi.
Mr. Crowningshield had to pay the state $2,500. He must also post fares in the two taxis he operates, cannot charge more than 10 times the Plattsburgh maximum fare, $7.50, and must call the attorney general’s office each time he picks up a passenger headed for Roxham Road.
“This case sends a strong message: We won’t hesitate to protect our most vulnerable neighbors, in Plattsburgh, or New York City, or anywhere else around New York,” Mr. Schneiderman said in an email.
Two other companies, C & L Taxi, and Town Taxi and Medical Transport, incurred lesser fines and were told to post fares.
Mr. Schneiderman has been forceful about cracking down on those seeking to take advantage of undocumented immigrants, whether in New York City or the northeastern tip of the state.
“It’s no surprise that a frightened refugee family might pay an exorbitant fare to get to the border — but that doesn’t make it legal, and we will continue to crack down on those looking to take advantage of fear for financial gain,” he said.
When reached for comment on the number posted on his car, Mr. Crowningshield, 48, hung up the phone.
Glen Michaels, an assistant attorney general based in Plattsburgh, said Mr. Crowningshield had complied with the order by posting fare sheets in his taxis. Mr. Michaels said he was told a check was forthcoming.
The civil order, obtained in New York State Supreme Court last week, may have targeted what Mr. Michaels said was the most egregious offender, but he said the investigation would continue.
Across the border in Montreal, an immigration lawyer, Stéphane Handfield, applauded the steps by New York State, but he was skeptical it would be effective in cracking down on what he viewed as a widespread practice.
“I don’t think it’s only one cabdriver who does this,” he said.
Not only do cabs line up at the Plattsburgh bus station waiting for arrivals, he said, but he also had four clients tell him they were charged $1,000 by a taxi company to be driven directly from New York City to the now well-known location on Roxham Road, which becomes Chemin Roxham on the northern side of the border.
“It’s criminal to put people in that situation,” Mr. Handfield said. “I know people who try to come to Canada, they fear for their life and they don’t want to go back to their country of citizenship, and people will profit off their misfortune.”
Since January, the flow of migrants has nearly tripled across the Quebec border, according to the Canada Border Services Agency. In January, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police recorded 245 interceptions. In March, the number jumped to 644. April figures have not yet been released.
On March 21, Mr. Crowningshield picked up Michelle Ortiz, an undercover investigator for the attorney general’s office in Plattsburgh. According to an affidavit, despite being asked the fare several times, Mr. Crowningshield told Ms. Ortiz how much the ride would cost only after they were en route to Roxham Road. He said it was $200. She paid him $180 in cash — he did not seem to notice the discrepancy — and then drove hastily away.
One time he charged $300 to take three passengers, and on another occasion, $200 for a family of five, case records showed. Northern Taxi made $15,000 in the first three months of 2017, compared with $7,000 in the last half of 2016, Mr. Crowningshield’s first several months in business, according to the court papers.
In interviews in February, when he told a reporter for The New York Times his last name was Crowningshiele, Mr. Crowningshield said that he charged “around $75” — sometimes more or sometimes less, he said — though it “depends on how many people” were in the car and also where he picked them up.
But he admitted it was a lucrative business to shuttle refugees to the border, rather than just take locals around Plattsburgh. “It’s better money, and it’s not a lot of wear and tear,” he said.
Rick Rojas contributed reporting.
For more information, go to: www.beverlyhillsimmigrationlaw.com