A former San Francisco police officer and a taxi-school instructor allegedly accepted numerous $100 bribes from potential cab drivers in exchange for a passing grade on required tests, prosecutors said Wednesday.
Paul Makaveckas, a longtime veteran of the SFPD, pleaded not guilty to four counts of bribery in San Francisco Superior Court on Wednesday, according to the district attorney. He posted $160,000 bail.
Makaveckas took administrative leave in March 2009 while under investigation by the FBI. He has since retired. His alleged accomplice, a 60-year-old taxi-driving instructor named William Hancock, also was charged with bribery.
Prosecutors allege that between 2007 and 2009, Makaveckas accepted bribes from driver applicants in exchange for giving them a passing grade on a written examination that was required for a driving permit.
Makaveckas was in charge of administering and grading a one-day written exam overseen by the Police Department. The tests are important ways to establish if a driver knows The City well enough and if a driver can speak enough English to communicate with passengers, according to Ruach Graffis, who runs her own taxi school and is the acting chair of the United Taxicab Workers union.
“This is the cop who was the gatekeeper,” Graffis said. “He was in charge of making sure people were safe going out on the streets.”
Hancock would have been the middleman in the bribery transactions, according to the charges. He ran a driving school named Flag-A-Cab. Students are required to complete 28 hours of instruction before receiving a certificate and moving on to the Police Department’s one-day program.
Flag-A-Cab has since changed to San Francisco Taxi School, run by Mickey Kelley. In 2003, Kelley ran into his own trouble with the Taxi Commission.
He was prohibited from running a taxi company for 10 years after the commission accused him of signing off on fare slips for medallion holders who could no longer drive cabs. He then went to work for Hancock and took over the school last year. Kelley did not return a call for comment.
Police would not say how many taxi permits were affected by the alleged bribes or what might happen to the drivers who falsely passed.
John Lazar, a member of the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency’s Taxi Advisory Council and the president of Luxor Cab Co., said the training accounts for about 10 percent of how a cab driver operates, with experience making up the rest.
“It’s like being a cook and making eggs,” Lazar said. “If you make sunny-side up eggs enough, you’re sure to get it right eventually.”