Los Angeles City Atty. James K. Hahn filed a $382,500 civil suit Thursday charging a string of cab companies with operating more than 100 "bandit" taxis in the city.
"This is the opening salvo against illegal operators who pose a threat to public safety, rip off taxpayers for $1 million a year and steal business from legitimate taxi operators," Hahn told reporters during a news conference at his office to announce the suit, which he called the first of its kind in the city.
Hahn estimated that there are as many as 600 bandit taxis currently operating illegally in Los Angeles, one-sixth of them operated by the man named in the suit: Gabriel Vincent de Caesar.
Named defendants in the suit, besides De Caesar, are his taxi operations: Celebrity Private Car Service Inc., Celebrity Taxi Leasing Co. Inc., Valley Celebrity Cab Co. (doing business as Celebrity Cab Co.), Lupe Inc. (doing business as Red Top Cab Co.) and Courtesy Cab Memberships Inc.
Hahn is seeking a court order to halt De Caesar's operations and a $2,500 penalty for each violation of the law.
The suit lists 152 alleged violations, including the arrests of 25 cab drivers during "sting" operations begun in January, 1986, in cooperation with the city Department of Transportation and the Police Department.
The arrests were not enough, Hahn said, because the companies "don't care if we arrest their driver."
"They just go out and hire another driver," he said.
Hahn said the unfranchised, bandit operations are dangerous because the cabs may not be maintained properly or carry the proper insurance and the drivers may not be qualified for the licenses required by the city. He said the drivers may cheat passengers by overcharging them and cheat legitimate operators by avoiding the franchise fees charged by the city.
The city attorney said he estimated the $1-million "rip-off" of taxpayers by calculating a combination of unpaid franchise fees, driver permit fees and the costs of apprehending and prosecuting the offenders.
Hahn said De Caesar lost his franchises to operate in the city because of previous bandit operations. De Caesar currently has franchises to operate in some unincorporated areas of Los Angeles County.
Neither De Caesar nor his lawyer could not be reached for comment.