4 Uber drivers cited at LAX have serious criminal records

At least four men who were ticketed by Los Angeles International Airport Police while driving for Uber’s low-cost car service have criminal convictions that would bar them from operating a taxi in Los Angeles, records show.

The drivers have been convicted of child exploitation, identity theft, manslaughter and driving under the influence, according to court records. Each offense would make them ineligible for a city of Los Angeles taxi permit.

The criminal histories recently came to light when a representative of the taxi industry presented a city official with a binder containing citations and court records for eight Uber drivers who were cited for minor violations at the airport over the last 18 months. The Times obtained a copy and independently confirmed that the records were accurate.

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Four drivers mentioned in the files had charges or convictions that would probably not preclude them from applying for a city taxi permit because the incidents occurred more than seven years ago or the violations were misdemeanors.

The disclosures come as the Los Angeles City Council weighs whether to assert jurisdiction over a new airport permit process that would allow Uber and other app-based ride companies to legally pick up passengers at LAX. And they raise new questions about how effectively the transportation giant screens its drivers.

The taxi industry has fought to keep Uber and similar ride-hailing services from operating at LAX, saying that they create unfair competition because their drivers are held to a lower standard than licensed taxi drivers.

Last week, six City Council members moved to reexamine the airport permit process, saying that elected officials should be given time to weigh in on questions related to public safety. If the motion passes Wednesday, the council could veto the policy and send it back to airport officials for revision.

“These are cases that reinforce the need to have this kind of dialogue,” said Councilman Paul Krekorian, who has asked the council to assert jurisdiction over the Board of Airport Commissioners. “They’re very good examples of why it’s important.”

Efforts to reach several of the drivers cited in the records were unsuccessful.

Last year, the top prosecutors of Los Angeles and San Francisco sued Uber, alleging that the company misled consumers over background checks. At the time, San Francisco Dist. Atty. George Gascon called the company’s verification process “completely worthless” because applicants aren’t fingerprinted.

On Tuesday, an Uber spokesperson referred The Times to comments made in a company blog post last month.

In that statement, Uber’s chief security officer, Joe Sullivan, wrote that “every system of background checks that is available today has its flaws” but that Uber’s checks “stack up well” against the taxi industry’s.

In 2014, he wrote, at least 600 people who were licensed to drive taxis in Los Angeles, San Diego and San Francisco failed Uber’s background check, including 19 people convicted of sex offenses and 36 convicted of DUI.

Sullivan said drivers cannot work for Uber if they have been convicted of any felony, or any violent or sexual crimes, in the last seven years.

One Uber driver who was ticketed at LAX was convicted on 14 counts of felony identity theft in 2012. Under the terms of his five-year probation, he cannot have access to any personal identifying information, including credit cards and debit cards, according to court records. All Uber passengers are required to pay with a credit or debit card, but payments are handled through the app.

Another driver was convicted of voluntary manslaughter in 1998 and sentenced to 25 years in prison. Parole records show that he was released last year. That conviction would not necessarily bar him from driving for Uber, but it would make it difficult, if not impossible, to get a taxi permit.

The city of Los Angeles automatically rejects permit applications from drivers who have been convicted of a sexual or violent felony, reckless driving or a hit-and-run crash that left someone seriously injured or killed.

Drivers must wait seven years after being convicted of other crimes, including misdemeanor offenses involving drugs, weapons, violence and fraud, before being eligible for a permit.

Twitter: @laura_nelson; @joelrubin

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UPDATES

5:55 p.m.: This post has been  updated with a statement from an Uber spokeswoman on payments.

This post was originally published at 4:49.

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