Local News
2:13 pm
Fri May 23, 2014

Airport Taxi Contract On FBI’s Radar

Credit Julie Rose

The FBI has expanded its investigation of corruption in Charlotte. Agents are now looking into allegations of a pay-to-play scheme involving Taxi companies and the airport.

TERRY:  How did we find out about this new investigation?

BULLOCK: I talked to Obaid Khan, he co-owns Diamond Cab here in Charlotte and he confirmed the FBI interviewed him for about an hour earlier this month. Khan has been featured in our reporting on the taxi contract. Khan told me the FBI asked him to walk through the pay-to-play allegations and provide any documentation or evidence he may have.

While we don’t know what he told the FBI specifically, here’s what he told us:

Back in 2011 the airport went from having 12 cab companies allowed to pick up passengers to just three. Khan and other owners said they were contacted by Mohammad Jenatian who said if they paid $5,000 annually to his group – the Greater Charlotte Hospitality and Tourism Alliance – he could guarantee they would get one of the three slots. If not, they would be locked out of the biggest money maker for cabs in the city.

Khan and two others we interviewed did not take part in the pay-to-play scheme – though one owner told us he paid half the amount.  They did not get the contracts. Two of the three companies that did in fact paid that sum to Jenatian’s group. The third gave a similar amount to Patrick Cannon in campaign donations.

TERRY: This investigation is in addition to their pending case against Patrick Cannon?

BULLOCK: That’s right, but it does involve Cannon.  Jenatian and Cannon are political allies, and Cannon sits on the board of Jenatian’s group. And the allegations have always been that Cannon promised to use his political influence to ensure those who took part in the alleged scheme got what they paid for – one of the airport slots.  It’s that arrangement that would make this illegal.

We’ve made numerous requests to interview Jenatian – by phone and email.  He has yet to respond.

TERRY:  Does it seem they’re investigating others besides the former mayor?

BULLOCK: It does in fact. Khan says the FBI agents asked a lot of questions about Jenatian. Khan also says they asked about the city council and other members besides Patrick Cannon, who was not yet mayor when this alleged scheme took place.

The FBI does not comment on ongoing investigations so we don’t know yet for sure. But Khan did say he was asked about some current members of council though he did not want to say who.

TERRY: City and airport officials say they’re reviewing the taxi contract. Any idea if changes are on the way?

BULLOCK: Brent Cagle, the interim Aviation Director is now looking at options. The decision is expected to be finalized next week.