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Taxi cab funds feed politics

Mark R. Madler and Fred Ortega

For Scott Schaffer, taxicabs were more than a way of getting people

from one destination to another. They were an entree into the

political worlds of Glendale and Burbank.

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As owner of several transportation companies operating in both

cities, including City Cab Co., Checker Cab Co. and Bell Cab,

Schaffer parlayed his business acumen into a political influence that

backed winning candidates, especially at the local level.

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“He represented taxicab interests, so naturally he would want to

be involved with the city process because the city chose the cab

franchises,” said Nat Reed, a political consultant who worked on the

Eileen Given’s Glendale City Council campaigns in the 1990s.

But now the one-time service club member and former Glendale Water

& Power commissioner finds himself facing a different spotlight.

Federal agents arrested Schaffer on July 13 on drug and weapons

charges. He is alleged to have traded handguns with members of the

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Vineland Boyz street gang for cocaine, police said.

Schaffer is being held in federal custody and is scheduled to be

arraigned in U.S. District Court on Monday.

Also arrested was Burbank City Councilwoman Stacey Murphy,

Schaffer’s girlfriend, on charges of cocaine possession and child

endangerment for allegedly having three handguns in her garage that

her 12-year-old son could have accessed. She is scheduled to appear

in Burbank Superior Court on Aug. 25.

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Those familiar with Schaffer, 51, recall him as being very

involved and active in city organizations. At one time he was a

member of the Glendale chapter of the American Heart Assn. and the

Kiwanis Club of Glendale.

In Burbank in 2003, Schaffer helped out students at Walt Disney

Elementary School to replace $3,700 earmarked for art supplies that

had been stolen.

“I would say he was a fairly prominent player,” said Judee

Kendall, executive vice president of the Glendale Chamber of Commerce

and publisher of the Glendale News-Press from 1993 to 2001. “He had

his cab company at the time and managed to work with the right people

to help his business.”

Former State Assemblyman Scott Wildman, who represented Glendale

and Burbank, recalled Schaffer as someone people wanted to get to

know.

“I knew everybody wanted to get close to him because there was

this perception he had money to contribute,” said Wildman, who served

from 1996 to 2000. “But we never developed a strong relationship.”

Schaffer’s dollars were more than a perception.

In 2001, Schaffer contributed $1,500 to the congressional campaign

of Rep. Adam Schiff. That same year he gave $1,000 to the campaign of

Don Young, a federal lawmaker from Alaska, campaign finance

disclosure forms show. But Young returned the $1,000, records show.

In Glendale, between May 2004 and February 2005, a total of more

than $12,000 in cash or in-kind donations were given to the campaigns

of Councilmen Bob Yousefian, Ara Najarian, Frank Quintero and Dave

Weaver by Schaffer, companies for which he is listed as an owner or

officer, and employees of those companies, according to the City

Clerk’s records.

In Burbank, Councilman Dave Golonski received $250 from Schaffer

for his 2005 re-election campaign. In the 2003 campaign, Mayor Jef

Vander Borght received a donation but could not recall the specific

amount. Vice Mayor Todd Campbell received a $250 check during his

2003 council run but said he may not have even cashed it. One of

Schaffer’s companies, G&S; Transit Management, donated $250 to

Murphy’s 2005 re-election campaign.There has been speculation that

Schaffer’s influence with elected officials led to preferential

treatment for his cab companies although council members in Glendale

and Burbank are not involved with the permitting process.

Schaffer’s connections helped his business thrive, said Harry

Semirjyan, owner of rival Northwest Yellow Cab Co. in Glendale.

“I knew he had connections with the city, which is important when

the city decides whether they are going to give a license or not,”

said Semirjyan, whose company operates in Santa Monica.

“I was trying to operate in Glendale but when I saw that other

companies already operating in Glendale would have a say in whether I

could work there, I did not even apply.”

City Cab would always be represented at such hearings and would in

effect give their “permission” on whether any new companies would be

allowed to operate in the area, Semirjyan said.

While such hearings are open to the public, including taxi company

owners, the public testimony does not dictate whether or not the

commission will grant a taxi permit, Transportation and Parking

Commissioner Carvel Gay said.

“Anybody can come in and say something good or something bad, even

other taxi companies, but we don’t take such comments as a condition

of approval,” Gay said.

The city clerk’s office conducts a thorough check of each taxi

applicant, including reviewing corporate charter and insurance

status, vehicle and facility conditions and other factors, Gay said.

The results of these inspections are put into a report that is

presented to the commission, and it is this material that the

commission uses when it considers whether or not to grant a license,

he said.

“I have never seen any attempts by established cab companies to

influence the commission’s decision on another cab company,” Gay

said, adding that he saw Schaffer attend a meeting once in his five

years on the commission and that he never got up and spoke.

In Burbank, the Traffic and Transportation Committee gives permits

for 120 cabs to operate -- 60 to one company and 60 to another.

City Cab has operated since 1994, three years before Murphy was

elected to the Burbank City Council. Checker and Yellow cabs are

owned by Tri-City Transportations System Inc. whose president is

Timmy Mardirossian, Schaffer’s former business partner.

Attempts to reach Mardirossian were not successful.

Various sources report that Schaffer sold his interest in City Cab

in December although state records still list him as an agent for the

company.

Burbank Traffic and Transportation Committee member Joseph

Terranova recalled that when taxi issues came before the group,

Schaffer would often be present to give the industry perspective.

While other companies have wanted to receive permits in Burbank,

the committee didn’t think it was necessary to change from companies

that had a good track record, Terranova said.

“There were few complaints from customers and few complaints from

city operations such as the police and licensing,” Terranova said.

“We were quite happy with them or else we would have looked around

for other cab companies.”


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