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A Super Bowl Trip, a Bribery Indictment and the Taxi Industry’s Corruption



In the wake of The Times’s series, New York Attorney General Letitia James opened an inquiry into the lending practices, and Mayor Bill de Blasio launched an investigation of taxi brokers. Last week, the city arrested a notorious industry debt collector and promised more enforcement action.

Thursday’s charges mirrored allegations that had long been known to at least some authorities. Melrose fired Mr. Kaufman in 2016, and last August, the National Credit Union Administration, the federal agency that oversees the nation’s credit unions, closed Melrose and brought civil charges against Mr. Kaufman, saying that he accepted bribes and demanding that he pay $3.5 million.

Before that, Mr. Kaufman was one of the largest players in the taxi industry. His grandfather founded Melrose in 1922, and for decades thereafter, the nonprofit credit union was among the biggest lenders to New York taxi drivers and medallion owners.

At its height, Melrose’s books included more than $1.5 billion in loans collateralized by thousands of medallions — including some owned by Michael D. Cohen, President Trump’s former personal lawyer. In 2015, when Melrose made $80 million in interest and fees, Mr. Kaufman took home $2.3 million, more than virtually any other credit union leader, financial disclosures show.

Mr. Georgiton’s fleet, which he co-owns with Basil Messados, a fellow Greek immigrant, is the third-biggest fleet in the city, according to the latest available government records. In addition to operating cabs, the company provides insurance to drivers and loans that allow some drivers to buy their own medallions. In 2015, Mr. Georgiton had a net worth of about $26 million, according to records filed as part of a legal case.

The co-owner of the fleet, Mr. Messados, did not respond to requests for comment.

Both Mr. Kaufman and Mr. Georgiton have had wide connections in the world of New York City politics and contributed to campaigns. Mr. Georgiton’s Instagram account features photos of him with Mr. de Blasio at four events as well as photos of him posing with Hillary Clinton, a former presidential candidate and secretary of state, and the Queens borough president, Melinda Katz, among others. After The Times put up an Instagram post from Mr. Georgiton showing him and Mr. Messados flanking Mr. de Blasio, the picture was removed late Thursday.

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