Anthony J. Medina, who was charged with pretending to be a city law enforcement official to intimidate yellow cabdrivers, was arrested after an investigation in The New York Times.
In the rough-and-tumble New York City taxi industry, Anthony J. Medina was an enforcer.
For years, Mr. Medina was the go-to debt collector for banks that lent money to drivers seeking to buy a permit to own a cab. If a driver fell behind on payments, it was Mr. Medina’s job to ensure the driver paid up. Sometimes, he temporarily seized the car. Other times, he confronted people on the street. Occasionally, drivers said, he flashed a gun.
On Tuesday, the New York City sheriff’s office arrested Mr. Medina outside his home on Staten Island and charged him with impersonating a city marshal, a misdemeanor. He is expected to make separate appearances in courts in Manhattan, Brooklyn, Queens and Staten Island in September.
“This individual’s actions as alleged are nothing short of brutal,” said Bill Heinzen, the acting head of the city Taxi and Limousine Commission, which oversees the yellow cab industry. “The city will not tolerate these kinds of illegal and callous actions.”
In an interview, Mr. Medina, 50, dismissed any complaints against him as bitterness from delinquent borrowers. He denied ever using a gun.
He said that the drivers’ anger was misdirected and that city officials arrested him to deflect attention from their own role in a crisis in the taxi industry that was the subject of an investigation by The New York Times.
“The industry is not messed up because of me,” Mr. Medina said. “I’m the scapegoat.”
The arrest marked the first criminal charges brought against an industry leader in response to the Times’s investigation into the taxi trade. One article published in May described Mr. Medina’s methods and reported that when he took a vehicle, he often left a note that said the seizures were “authorized by vehicle apprehension unit.”The arrest marked the first criminal charges brought against an industry leader in response to the Times’s investigation into the taxi trade. One article published in May described Mr. Medina’s methods and reported that when he took a vehicle, he often left a note that said the seizures were “authorized by vehicle apprehension unit.”
The notes said the seizures were “for Police Dept./Sheriff/Marshall’s Office.” Mr. Medina is a private contractor who does not work for a law enforcement agency.
Asked to explain those references to law enforcement, Mr. Medina told The Times in an interview earlier this year that they were not what they appeared.
That’s not saying that the person taking the medallion is an officer,” he said at the time. “That paper states that I could bring that into a police station, a sheriff station or whatever.”
The Times investigation found that taxi industry leaders spent more than a decade artificially inflating the price of the permit, called a taxi medallion, that allows a driver to own a cab. The price of a medallion rose to $1 million in 2014 from $200,000 in 2002. During that period, lenders made hundreds of millions of dollars by channeling immigrant drivers into loans they could not afford.
The investigation also found that the city Taxi and Limousine Commission ignored warning signs and exacerbated the problems by choosing to sell medallions and run advertisements claiming the permits were “better than the stock market.”
After the financial bubble burst and medallion prices crashed starting in late 2014, more than 950 medallion owners filed for bankruptcy. Thousands more are struggling to survive.
Taxi industry leaders have denied wrongdoing, saying regulators approved their practices. They have blamed the crisis on unforeseen competition from ride-hailing companies like Uber and Lyft.
The day after the investigation was published, city officials started a 45-day review of the taxi industry. In a statement on Tuesday, Mayor Bill de Blasio said the arrest was the first step in a series of actions arising out of that review. More will be announced this month, he said.
“This arrest provides some long-awaited justice for medallion owners who were made victim of predatory practices for far too long,” he said.
Attorney General Letitia James of New York is also probing the lending practices, while lawmakers at the city and state levels are pursuing legislation.
Mr. Medina was an unusual figure in the taxi industry because he worked for most, if not all, of the lenders. He was well-known in the industry; drivers often spoke of their fear of “Tony.”
In interviews with The Times, drivers said Mr. Medina usually seized medallions in the night, either by prying them off cars or by taking the entire vehicle. He often left notes that told borrowers they had to give lenders “relief” to get their medallions back.
In addition to catching up on payments to the lender, drivers said they often had to make an additional down payment — and also pay Mr. Medina $550 for his services. Mr. Medina would accept only cash, and he made borrowers meet him at a park to deliver the money, they said.
On occasion, the drivers said, Mr. Medina confronted borrowers in person. In one incident described to The Times and cited in the city’s announcement about the charges, he and another associate allegedly approached a driver in a parked taxi and shouted at him until he got out.
In the interview earlier this year, Mr. Medina insisted he was simply a messenger for the banks.
He said he requested cash because drivers who had defaulted could not be trusted to write good checks, and he said he met at parks because he wanted to hide his identity out of fear he could be targeted by borrowers.
“If I was doing things shady and doing things they’re claiming that I’m doing, and pulling guns and doing this and doing that, you think I’d be the go-to guy for 20-plus years?” Mr. Medina said in the interview. “Think about it. My reputation speaks for itself.”
Ali Watkins contributed reporting.
Brian M. Rosenthal is an investigative reporter on the Metro Desk. Previously, he covered state government for the Houston Chronicle and for The Seattle Times.