LAS VEGAS - Nevada Taxicab Authority enforcement supervisor Rico Constantino thinks the TA is probably too small to adequately monitor thousands of cabs over such a large and busy area. "We're not that big," he said. "We only have four officers per shift. That's one supervisor, and we have to answer to 8,000 square miles. So, there are not enough people."
TA officers have a tough and dangerous job. After all, Las Vegas taxi drivers can be a handful. Compared to some local agencies, TA employees, in general, do not earn whopper salaries.
Payroll records for 2009 show that Constantino, for instance, has a base salary of less than $43,000 as a level-three enforcement officer. With sick time and overtime, it's $63,000 plus another $19,000 he earned as a level-two officer. That brings his total to around $82,000.
His boss, longtime enforcement chief Joe Dahlia, earned $61,000 in salary, but was paid $104,000 overall including $30,000 for sick time used in 2009. His total pay and benefits came to $122,000. That is more than his boss, TA administrator Gordon Walker, who earned just under $98,000 or a total of $115,000.
For many years, the widespread perception of TA has been that employees supplement their incomes with goodies (such as gifts, freebies, maybe more) from the taxi industry they regulate. TA boss Gordon Walker told the I-Team two years ago the TA no longer allows cab companies to influence enforcement.
"I did uncover some of that information when I came on board from prior administrations and people," Walker said. " I simply won't tolerate any of that. I understood that at one point in years past, that Christmas gifts were coming through the door at a rapid pace. That is not allowed."
But, at least eight current and former TA employees have told the I-Team the cab companies still exert influence over TA enforcement. The best example is the issue of long-hauling, or drivers who take the long way to Strip hotels and overcharge their passengers by millions of dollars each year. This, in turn, makes millions for the cab companies. TA officers who have tried to enforce the law against long-hauling have repeatedly been warned to stop or else. Former airport officer Larry Johnston remembers writing a long-hauling citation at three in the morning. By 7:00 am, it had been voided by chief Joe Dahlia.
"He did no investigation," Johnston said. "He got a call. Obviously, he got a call at home from someone at Western cab."
Former airport officer Scott Lewis says he and others were ordered to stop writing citations. "We received a phone call from one of our senior investigators that said, ‘Get back into your office and don't stop a Desert Taxi for the rest of the night. If you do, it's going to be your job,'" Lewis said. "He said the chief of the Taxi Authority Joe Dahlia got a call from the GM of Desert Cab."
Scott Lewis was fired for a laundry list of alleged misdeeds. He thinks it all stems from his criticism of long-hauling enforcement. Lewis alleges TA operates like an independent fiefdom rather than a state agency. For example, for three weeks in April, TA officers made nightly, even hourly, patrols past the home of their boss Gordon Walker. Walker's home is many miles removed from the taxis on the Strip. They were acting as Walker's private security force. Days later, Lewis and a friend were spotted and detained as they were videotaping the nightly patrols. TA investigators spent the weekend writing a criminal complaint and had Lewis arrested at his work place on charges of stalking.
For the past six weeks, TA officers have been showing up at the Hard Rock Hotel where Lewis works. The same officers involved in his arrest have followed Lewis into the employee dining room, where they help themselves to free meals. Surely, officer Adam Teti and officer Chris Rivers, each of whom earned more than $80,000 last year, can afford to pay for their own lunches.
The state has a policy against nepotism, but the rules are flexible at TA. Investigator Constantino's brother Tony was hired in January as an officer and could serve under his sibling. Tony's wife is reportedly up for a dispatcher position. Adam Teti, one of the guys in the buffet line, will now supervise his own father, who was recently hired as an officer. By the way, the Hard Rock hotel has informed TA that the free lunches are over.