MORRISONVILLE — A taxi company owner here has pleaded guilty to contempt of court after illegally taking advantage of asylum seekers, the New York State Attorney General's Office said.
Christopher Crowningshield, owner of Northern Taxi and Chris' Shuttle Service, was found to have overcharged asylum seekers for transportation from the Plattsburgh bus station to the unofficial "Roxham Road" border crossing into Canada.
He charged passengers as much as $100 per person or $300 per family for the half-hour drive, the release said, even after a 2017 court order prohibited him from charging more than $92.50, regardless of the number of passengers.
“Immigrant communities are scared, and it is unconscionable that business owners would try to take advantage of that fear to line their own pockets,” Attorney General Letitia James said in a news release.
“Not only did Christopher Crowningshield repeatedly swindle these vulnerable individuals, but he then violated a court order strictly prohibiting him from engaging in the same predatory behavior.
"We will never tolerate individuals that profit from fear or disrespect the law.”
The release noted that Crowningshield also did not keep detailed records of trips taken to the border and fares charged, which had been mandated by the court order, and that he had not conspicuously posted ride fares in his vehicles, as required by New York state law.
Crowningshield's guilty plea to civil and criminal contempt of court resulted in a $10,000 fine and a sentence of three weekends in jail.
Due to a loophole in the international Safe Third Country Agreement between Canada and the United States, while asylum seekers who try to enter at official border crossings into Canada can be turned away, people crossing at unofficial ports of entry can remain to file a claim for asylum.
The Attorney General's Office began investigations into local cab companies in early 2017 after reports that drivers were taking advantage of refugees, and found several local taxi firms to be in violation of state laws.
Crowningshield's Northern Taxi was among them, with investigators posing as asylum seekers at the Plattsburgh bus station and taking his transportation to the border.
He admitted then to charging different fares to the same location depending on who he was driving and charging up to $300 for the trip in some cases.
In May of that year, Crowningshield was ordered to pay $2,500 in penalties and begin posting fares in his vehicles.
“It’s no secret that we’ve seen intense fear in immigrant communities across New York in recent months," then Attorney General Eric Schneiderman said. "To take advantage of that fear for financial gain is simply unconscionable.”
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