William Bryan Jennings, Morgan Stanley’s bond-underwriting chief in the U.S., was charged with a hate crime in the stabbing of a New York City cab driver of Middle Eastern descent over a fare.
Mohamed Ammar said the banker attacked him Dec. 22 with a 2½-inch blade and used racial slurs after a 40-mile ride from New York to the banker’s $3.4 million Darien, Connecticut home.
Jennings, who had attended a bank holiday party at a boutique hotel in Manhattan before hailing the cab, refused to pay the $204 fare upon arriving in his driveway, the driver said. When Ammar threatened to call the local police, Jennings said they wouldn’t do anything to help because he pays $10,000 in taxes, according to a report by the Darien police department.
Ammar, a native of Egypt, said he then backed out of the driveway to seek a police officer. The banker called him an expletive and said “I’m going to kill you. You should go back to your country,” according to the report, filed in state court in Stamford. A fight ensued as they drove through Darien, and Jennings, 45, allegedly cut Ammar, 44, police said.
The banker, who eventually fled the cab and turned himself in two weeks later after a vacation in Florida, was charged with second-degree assault, theft of services and intimidation by bias or bigotry. He faces as long as 5 years in prison on the assault charge.
Put on Leave
Pen Pendleton, a spokesman for New York-based Morgan Stanley, said yesterday that Jennings, who is free on $9,500 bond and is set for a March 9 court appearance, has been put on leave.
The banker has worked at Morgan Stanley during his entire career in the securities industry, starting in 1993, according to the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority.
Now co-head of North American fixed-income capital markets, he worked his way up from associate; vice president, and then principal, for debt capital markets; to executive director for investment banking and then managing director for fixed income capital markets. He is a graduate of Williams College and received a master’s in business from Northwestern University.
Ammar, an American citizen who immigrated to the U.S. in 1994, is a resident of the Astoria section of the New York City borough of Queens. He is married and has three children, he said yesterday in a phone interview. Ammar has been driving yellow cabs since the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks cut business for a limousine service he had operated starting in 1997, he said.
He told police Jennings flagged him down in front of Ink48, a hotel on Manhattan’s West Side. The hotel confirmed there was a Morgan Stanley party that night, which Jennings said he went to following a charity event.
The banker appeared “drunk,” the driver said, according to court documents.
Jennings told police that, while he had been drinking throughout the afternoon, he wasn’t “highly intoxicated,” according to the police report. The executive said he had hosted the charity auction for Morgan Stanley until 6 p.m. before heading to the bank’s holiday party at the hotel’s rooftop bar.
He left the party sometime before 11 p.m. and headed to the street, where he was supposed to be met by a car service, Jennings said. He hailed Ammar’s cab after the livery car didn’t appear, according to the report.
Ammar said Jennings agreed on the fare and told him he would pay cash. Jennings fell asleep during the trip, the driver said. Once at the destination, though, Jennings said “he did not feel like paying” because he was already home, Ammar told police.
Ammar told officers Jennings threatened him, and that he feared for his safety. He backed out of the driveway with Jennings still in the cab. Ammar said he had tried to call 911 but was hampered by poor cellular reception in the wealthy Fairfield County suburb.
As he drove off, Ammar said, Jennings pulled the knife and began stabbing him through the open partition that divided the front and rear of the cab. Ammar said he tried to defend himself by using his right hand to block the opening, and then pulled over and dialed 911 again, as Jennings got out and fled, police said.
Jennings told Darien police the cab driver accidentally cut his hand while attempting to block the banker from calling the police himself on his cell phone, according to the report.
The Morgan Stanley executive told police he was afraid to come forward after the incident because the cab driver knew where he lived. He then went on vacation to Florida, police said.
Jennings told officers he subsequently called his lawyer after a friend told him police were looking for a suspect in the stabbing incident, according to the report.
“Jennings said he didn’t know what to do -- he just wanted the whole thing to go away,” Darien Police Detective Chester Perkowski said in a court document filed with the report.
In the arrest warrant application dated Feb. 26, Perkowski wrote his investigation “discredits Jennings’ statement that Ammar reached into the back of the cab while he was driving.”
Ammar reaching into the backseat while driving, as Jennings claimed, would have been “virtually impossible,” he wrote, adding that Jennings never attempted to call police in the aftermath of the incident. Jennings was charged Feb. 29.
Eugene Riccio, his defense attorney, said the driver made an “exorbitant demand” closer to $300 and that he attempted to abduct his client.
“My client was the victim of a crime that night -- not the perpetrator of one,” Riccio said, denying that his client was drunk or made any racial slurs. “He was abducted against his will from his own driveway. Fortunately he was able to escape.”
The driver threatened to return to New York, Riccio said. Ammar denied the lawyer’s allegation.
Riccio contended that the driver was “seconds away” from the on-ramp to the highway heading back to the city when Jennings drew a knife from his pocket.
“He pulled it out in an effort to try to get the man to stop,” Riccio said. “He was in a car that was racing down the road, disobeying traffic signals with the back door open.”
In a telephone interview, Ammar said that, when he first quoted a price for the ride outside the Ink48 hotel, located on 11th Avenue in Manhattan’s Hell’s Kitchen neighborhood, Jennings said it was “no problem.”
‘Bunch of Money’
“He pushed his hand in his pocket and pulled out a bunch of money. I said it’s OK,” Ammar said, adding that he showed Jennings the price as listed in New York City’s Taxi & Limousine Commission’s guidebook for cab drivers.
Jennings asked him to stop somewhere for food before taking the highway, so he took him to a deli on 10th Avenue, a stop that helped police investigators identify the banker, Ammar said. Video footage from the deli allowed police to recognize Jennings after Ammar said he was unable to remember the location of the banker’s house in Connecticut.
Police also took garbage that Jennings left in the back of the cab as evidence, Ammar said.
“I don’t feel safe,” Ammar said yesterday of the events more than two months ago. “I never felt somebody could do something like this in America.” He said, however, that he had no choice but to continue working as a cab driver.
“This is my job and I have to do it,” he said.
Ammar denied allegations by Jennings and his lawyer that he tried to return to New York from Darien during the dispute.
“Why should I take him back to New York, give him a round-trip?” Ammar said. “I just want to get my money and that’s it.”
His hand required more than 60 stitches, he said. Ammar said he refused to be treated in Connecticut and instead chose a New York hospital.
Yesterday at Jennings’s home in Darien, nobody answered the door when a reporter visited seeking comment on the case.
Allan Fromberg, a spokesman for the TLC, said the cab ride would have been outside the commission’s purview because the destination was outside mandatory drop off areas.
“The passenger and the driver would have had to come to an agreement on a flat fare,” he said.
Typically in cases like this, the cab meter runs until the city limits with the passenger and the driver negotiating on the final price, he said. Although the TLC uses GPS to track taxis, the system wouldn’t be engaged in a situation such as this because of the destination, Fromberg said.
Attacks on Drivers
Bhairavi Desai is executive director of the New York Taxi Workers Alliance, which calls itself the largest taxi driver union in the country. She said the group gets one or two reports of assaults on drivers every week.
“We know that most of them go unreported both to the police and to us,” she said. “People are silent because it’s almost become a norm as part of this work.”
Desai said that while the group doesn’t see a special pattern of assaults for trips out of town to places like Connecticut, it does see a pattern of fare beating.
“We do have incidents of people jumping out and running into their homes,” she said in an interview. “The driver is not as familiar with the area. They tend to be very residential areas, they’re not as well lit. There’s not as many people on the streets, not as many police.”
The alliance has been promoting the Taxi Driver Protection Act, a bill that would make an assault on a driver a felony, as it is for transit workers.
The case is State of Connecticut v. Jennings 12-0176761, Superior Court for the State of Connecticut (Stamford).