Delinda Epstein, 51, was living in a townhouse in the swanky Las Vegas suburb of Summerlin, a few years ago. She owned a brand new truck, worked as an administrator for a Henderson construction company.
But she lost her job in the recession. She lost her truck and had to move into a smaller apartment in a less fancy neighborhood.
Hunting around for income, she placed an Online ad on Craigslist in August: “Are you looking to spend less time cleaning, shopping and running errands or any of the small minute things that interrupt your busy schedule/life? I can help!” Transportation was one of the services offered.
She received a call from Richie, a businessman who said he needed to arrange a ride from McCarran International Airport to Rhodes Ranch. The two agreed on a $30 fee.
On Sept. 3, she pulled up to the curb at passenger pick-up, driving her 2006 Hyundai Elantra, which she had bought through a second-chance financing business.
But “Richie” wasn’t interested in a ride. He was an undercover agent with the county Transportation Authority, which sees its job in part as protecting licensed taxi and limousine operators from unlicensed competition.
As “Richie” settled in the passenger seat, a badge-bearing colleague knocked on Epstein’s window.
“I’m thinking, ‘Oh my God, do I have a terrorist in my car?’” Epstein said in a recent letter-to-the-editor.
No, so far as the two TSA agents were concerned it was Ms. Epstein, wearing jeans and flip-flops, who was the criminal.
Ms. Epstein was initially fined $3,800, though that may get knocked down to $250. Her car was impounded. She couldn’t pay the processing fee of $250 plus $40 for each day it was in the lot, so she lost the Elantra and now rides the bus.
To top it all off, the Transportation Authority is forcing her to get rid of the cell phone number she’s had for a decade because it was used in an illegal scheme. So much for the contact number she’d left on hundreds of job applications around town.
“We’re not heartless, but we do feel a lot of passion for protecting the public and that’s what we’re charged to do,” Marilyn Skibinski, deputy commissioner for the authority, told Review-Journal columnist Adrienne Packer.
Imagine someone rising in the galleries when this ordinance was proposed to object, “Wait a minute; if my friend from out of town calls and asks me to pick him up at the airport, and when I pick him up he hands me twenty bucks and says, ‘Here, this is for gas,’ under this ordinance I will have just committed a crime that could see me fined thousands of dollars, and I might even have to give up my phone number and my car?!”
What do you suppose that person would have been told? County Commissioners and staff would have rolled their eyes at such a ridiculous hypothetical, insisting, ‘No, no, we won’t use this ordinance THAT way. The ordinance will be enforced REASONABLY. We’re just after big, organized outfits that make their livings providing taxi or limousine services without proper permits.” Wouldn’t they?
Mind you, such rackets are still more about protecting existing operators from unwanted competition which would drive down costs to tourists — leaving them more money to spend in our restaurants, hotels, and casinos — than about “public safety.”
A lawyer tells me Ms. Epstein’s final mistake — though her lack of resources doubtless contributed — was in pleading guilty before consulting a good attorney. “Entrapment” is often defined as an action by a policing agency that creates a crime where a crime might otherwise never have occurred. Since Ms. Epstein’s freebie Internet ad didn’t specify “will pick you up at the airport,” had the county agents not reached out and invited her to break the law, who’s to say she ever would have gone near the airport, at all?
Government at all levels claims it can find “no place to cut” its bloated budgets, despite the current great recession. Really? How
about laying off the airport “sting” operators who went after Delinda Epstein?
“I’ve been hanging on by a thread,” since losing her job, she says.
Not to worry, Ms. Epstein. They’re from the government; they’re here to help.