It isn’t too often that Las Vegas taxi drivers win one. Most of the time, when cabbies are mentioned in news stories, it’s because some of them did something wrong, such as diverting passengers away from a requested destination or taking a longer route than necessary. I know, since I have reported such happenings myself.
There are few jobs that are tougher, and few professions more maligned. The reality is that driving a cab used to be a respectable profession, in which drivers could make a decent living, enough to support their families. Today, it’s brutal. Imagine trying to navigate Las Vegas traffic for 10 or more hours a day, dealing with the maniacs, drunks and perpetually angry nutballs who rule our roadways, not to mention the abusive tourists who take out their frustrations on cabbies. And then there are the cab companies, which are always adding more cabs to the streets, cutting into drivers’ incomes, or are thinking of ways to take a bigger slice of the driver’s nightly book, or are subtly encouraging crooked drivers to long-haul passengers, which puts pressure on honest drivers to keep up.
Well, chalk one up for the cabbies.
I doubt the owners of the Palomino Club, a venerable jiggle joint in North Las Vegas, set out to vindicate local taxi drivers, but that’s exactly what they did in a court case that ended quietly last week. The drivers themselves don’t even know about it yet, but I have a feeling they will be elated once they get the news.
The case started a few years ago when the owners of two adult nightclubs, Little Darlings and Deja Vu Showgirls, filed a lawsuit against most of the local cab companies, and also their competitors in the strip club business. The lawsuit accused the adult clubs of conspiring with taxi companies to steal customers from the plaintiffs. Basically, the two clubs that sued were angry about the per-passenger bounty that was being paid to cabbies. The argument was that by paying a higher tip to drivers for delivering passengers, the other clubs encouraged drivers to divert passengers from their intended destinations. There’s no question that such diversions do take place, and a few cabbies exhibited considerable creativity in explaining to passengers why the requested destination was a bad idea.
All of the adult clubs pay something to the drivers. It became a matter for litigation when some of the megaclubs jacked up the bounty to numbers that just seemed ridiculous. The case wound through the courts, and most of the cab companies, like most of the nightclubs, agreed to pay some damages rather than to keep paying legal fees to fight the case.
The only club that continued to fight was the Palomino. It had no intention of rolling over. Owner Adam Gentile insisted that he has a constitutional right to tip cabbies for delivering passengers. His father, who happens to be nationally known First Amendment attorney Dominic Gentile, agreed. During the discovery process, the lawyers discovered some illuminating e-mails about the tactics used by the plaintiffs. Suddenly, the Palomino filed its own lawsuit, one that alleged egregious abuse of process.
In the end, the Palomino won. The original plaintiffs, who had collected a pile of dough from the original defendants, had to pay about two-thirds of their awarded money to the Palomino. But what is more important for taxi drivers is that the judge essentially upheld the legality of paying bounties to drivers for delivering passengers, so long as no overt diversion is involved.
“It is a victory for the First Amendment,” Dominic Gentile told me, “and it is surely a win for the taxi drivers.”
Adam Gentile said he toyed with the idea of simply handing out the awarded amount to drivers, but was reminded of just how much the long court fight had cost his company. He hopes the cabbies will remember who stood up for their right to earn a decent living.
Ray Flynn has pretty much done it all during his 32 years with Metro. He worked in traffic, as a hostage negotiator, with the K-9 unit, with SWAT, too. Back in the day when we had real, live mobsters running things on the Strip, he headed up the Organized Crime team. He’s been on the executive staffs of the last three sheriffs, helping to guide the department while keeping the lowest of profiles. Flynn will hang up his badge and gun at the end of this week after a long and distinguished law-enforcement career. The shoes he leaves behind will be tough to fill. … Metro detective Bob Whitely and FBI agent Mike Elliott probably had no idea they would become joined at the hip when they started working the HOA corruption scandal years ago. But these gumshoes have probably spent more time with each other over the past few years than with their spouses. At long last, the final round of indictments were handed down this week, bringing the total number of defendants to just under 40. My guess is that a few dozen others just missed the cut and escaped being named on criminal charges for helping to steal millions of dollars from local homeowner associations, in part, by rigging elections to HOA boards. Among those named in this latest round was Leon Benzer, whose construction company operated at the very heart of the alleged conspiracy. Will Benzer go through the trouble of an actual trial, now that nearly 30 of the co-defendants have entered guilty pleas? Either way, Whitely and Elliott must be enjoying a profound sense of accomplishment — and relief — to finally put this thing to bed. … Lisa Kim, who headed up an HOA management company called Platinum Services during the height of the above-mentioned criminal conspiracy, already entered a guilty plea in the case, but she hasn’t completely left the arena. Kim is reportedly running yet another HOA management company, a company that likewise is called Platinum Services, except this one is located in Parrish, Fla. Some of her clients sent me a note to let us know she’s still in the biz. … Sen. Harry Reid might be one of the most powerful people in the country, but he still has to deal with the kind of humdrum headaches that plague the rest of us. When Reid arrived at his Searchlight home during the congressional recess, he found the heating system had broken down. Perfect timing too, since the temperature at the time was about 18 degrees. … Newly minted congressman Steve Horsford is one of 80 incoming freshmen and needed a lucky break in order to get prime office space and other perks over his fellow freshmen. A lottery was held and Horsford drew lucky No. 13, which gave him a leg up on 67 of his new colleague. … Veterans of Area 51 are sad to announce the death of Lt. Col. Jack Reed, who helped develop many of the most sophisticated (and secret) planes in the world during his years at the classified Groom Lake facility. In more recent times, Col. Reed helped develop a new line of unmanned spy planes and other exotic platforms. … A local ghost-hunter group reports a bonanza of weird activity at the home of late attorney Bucky Buchanan when the team staked out the place a few nights ago. The ghost-hunters plan to release their findings to the public — along with audio and video in the near future.
GEORGE KNAPP is a Peabody Award-winning investigative reporter for KLAS Channel 8. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.