William Bryan Jennings, the Morgan Stanley U.S. bond-underwriting chief accused of stabbing a New York cab driver over a fare, pleaded not guilty to assault and hate-crime charges based on the man’s Middle Eastern descent.
Jennings’s lawyer, Eugene J. Riccio, entered the plea on his client’s behalf yesterday before Connecticut Superior Court Judge Robert L. Genuario in Stamford. Jennings wore a blue suit, white shirt and patterned tie to the proceeding, which lasted less than a minute. He and Riccio left the courthouse without speaking to reporters and drove away in a pickup truck. His next court date is April 12.
Jennings, 45, is accused of attacking the driver, Mohamed Ammar, on Dec. 22 with a 2 1/2-inch blade and using racial slurs after a 40-mile ride from New York to the banker’s Darien, Connecticut, home. The hate-crime count brings the same five-year maximum prison sentence as the assault charge.
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. Jennings said “he did not feel like paying” because he was already home, Ammar, 44, told police. The banker offered to pay $50, he said. Jennings told police Ammar demanded $294 and he offered to pay $160.
Call to 911
Ammar, a native of Egypt, said that after the banker refused to pay, he backed out of the driveway of the $3.4 million home to seek a police officer. Ammar said he had tried to call 911 but was hampered by poor mobile reception in the wealthy Fairfield County suburb.
The banker called him an expletive and said, “I’m going to kill you. You should go back to your country,” according to the police report. A fight ensued as they drove through Darien, and Jennings allegedly cut Ammar, police said.
Jennings said the driver cut his hand trying to grab the knife from him, which he said he wielded because he feared he was being abducted, possibly back to the city. Ammar denied he tried to take Jennings back to New York.
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. Freed on $9,500 bond, he faces as long as 10 years and three months in prison. He was charged Feb. 29.
Pen Pendleton, a spokesman for New York-based Morgan Stanley, said March 2 that Jennings has been put on leave.
Ammar told police that before they left for Connecticut, he showed Jennings the New York City Taxi & Limousine Commission’s rate book listing the fare at $204. Jennings said they didn’t discuss the fare and he assumed the cost would be $125 to $150, which is what Morgan Stanley’s car service charged, according to police. He had never taken a yellow cab home before, he said.
Jennings flagged Ammar down in front of Ink48, a hotel on Manhattan’s West Side, sometime before 11 p.m. after the banker said his car service didn’t appear, according to the report.
The banker appeared “drunk,” the driver said, according to court documents. Jennings said he drank “two or three Coors Lights” at a charity event he hosted before the party and “several more beers” at the party itself, according to his police statement. He told police he wasn’t “highly intoxicated,” according to the police report.
Jennings fell asleep during the trip, the driver said. Jennings never gave him his address and instead the driver woke him up as they neared the house.
After Jennings refused to pay and Ammar drove off with his passenger still in the car, Jennings pulled the knife and began stabbing him through the open partition that divided the front and rear of the cab, Ammar said. 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 said he never stabbed Ammar, according to his police statement. He showed the driver he had a knife after they pulled away from his house and Ammar cut himself in trying to grab it away, he told police.
Jennings never threatened to kill Ammar or told him to go back to his country, according to the banker’s police statement.
The Connecticut hate-crime statute, signed into law in 2000, makes it a felony to cause or threaten physical damage to a person or to property with a specific intent to intimidate or harass a person “because of the actual or perceived race, religion, ethnicity, disability, sexual orientation or gender identity or expression of such other person.”
In Connecticut, there were 243 arrests and 33 convictions under the statute from 2007 to 2011, according to Rhonda Stearley-Hebert, a spokeswoman for the State Judicial Branch office. Under the law, Ammar would also be able to sue Jennings for damages.
The case is State of Connecticut v. Jennings 12-0176761, Superior Court for the State of Connecticut (Stamford).