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Las Vegas taxi drivers say they have been unfairly maligned by a lawsuit filed in connection with kickbacks paid by adult nightclubs.
The lawsuit alleges that taxi drivers routinely divert passengers from their requested destinations, taking them instead to nightclubs that pay a bounty.
It turns out, the adult clubs aren't too happy about the allegations either.
Contrary to what is alleged in the lawsuit, attorneys for the strip clubs say there is nothing illegal about what they've been doing.
It's not just a lawsuit. The owner of two local strip clubs also filed a formal complaint with the state, alleging that the clubs are breaking the law by paying kickbacks, the drivers are breaking the law for taking them, and the taxi companies should be held accountable as well.
But attorneys for the clubs say there's nothing illegal about tipping drivers, and the drivers say they're being made the scapegoat.
Randy Hynes, an advocate for taxi drivers and former driver himself knows big money is being handed out by Las Vegas adult clubs. But he says cabbies get only a small piece of it.
Some drivers do divert passengers from where they want to go just so the driver can score a kickback, Hynes admits, but says the cabbies are more often the victims of diversion.
"The doormen and limo drivers are working in collusion to intercept taxi rides at casino resorts," he said.
The I-Team had no trouble spotting limo drivers who had horned in on the strip club bounties.
In general, when a hotel doorman has a tourist who wants to go to a strip club, he pulls that person out of the taxi line and offers a free limo ride. He then splits the kickback with the limo driver. The cabbie in line is left in the cold.
During undercover rides in taxis, every driver complained about it, "This crap happened to me twice last night. He cut right in front of me and gets jacked. That's like $300 to $400 gone."
"Everybody's aware -- everyone. They just look the other way," said Hynes.
Industry sources say the largest clubs in the valley pay out staggering amounts, an average of nearly $3.5 million per month.
Off the record, the clubs say they don't want to pay it anymore but fear the consequences if they were to cut if off.
That's why some club owners are secretly rooting for attorney Neil Beller, who filed a lawsuit and an administrative complaint alleging that the payments are illegal.
After the I-Team reported Beller's allegations, lawyers for the clubs responded, saying the payments are not, in fact illegal. True, the City of Las Vegas code states that liquor licensees are prohibited from paying gratuities to drivers, but the city attorney admits this has never been enforced.
Most of the larger clubs are in the county, not the city, and the county ordinance outlawing the payments was rescinded in 2006.
The attorney for Sapphires wrote to say there is nothing illegal about such payments because the law was changed.
Attorney Beller agrees to an extent, but he says since state law makes kickbacks and diversions illegal for drivers, and since the clubs know the drivers should not accept bounties, the clubs are breaking the law.
It's a point that will have to be decided in court. The clubs say they are confident they will prevail.
In the meantime, Beller would like the Nevada Taxi Authority to simply enforce the laws on the books and punish drivers who violate it.
"That is the essence of what we want to accomplish, for it to stop, for the Taxi Authority to enforce its own rules and regulations," he said.
"It's a difficult regulation to enforce, as you can imagine. We have limited staff and limited funding," said Taxi Authority Administrator Gordon Walker
Since Walker took charge of the TA, there has been no enforcement against drivers for kickbacks since there have been no complaints. Club owners say they've complained but nothing happens.
Drivers think the TA takes marching orders from the transportation companies.
"They sit back and wait for tourists to complain and tourists don't," said Hynes.
Lawyers for at least two of the clubs have contacted Beller to tell him his lawsuit has no merit and that it is simply not illegal for clubs to tip drivers.
Drivers say they too want the state to enforce the law. They point out that limos are supposed to be for charters, not to drive around looking for passengers like a taxi.
And they say the limo companies are paying kickbacks to the hotels for permission to park their vehicles right at the front.