Darien banker pleads not guilty to hate crime charge
STAMFORD, Mar 09, 2012 (The Stamford Advocate - McClatchy-Tribune Information Services via COMTEX) --
A Darien investment banker pleaded not guilty Friday morning to charges of committing a hate crime against a New York City taxi driver of Middle Eastern descent and cutting him with a pen knife during a fare dispute.
Appearing with his attorney Eugene Riccio in state Superior Court in Stamford, William Jennings, 47, of 39 Knollwood Lane, entered the pleas before Judge Robert Genuario. Following the brief hearing, Jennings left the court briskly with a gaggle of New York media in tow.
Jennings, who has been placed on administrative leave from his job as co-head of fixed income and capital markets for Morgan Stanley in Manhattan, is facing charges of second-degree intimidation based on race or bigotry, second-degree assault and theft of services relating to the Dec. 22 dispute.
Jennings has denied the charges. He claimed he was the victim of an attempted abduction and acted out of fear for his safety. Jennings is free on $9,500 bond.
Darien detectives, however, became skeptical of Jennings' account and said they discredited his description of the alleged assault.
The New York City taxi driver reported the alleged assault to Darien police the night of the incident, telling officers a man who refused to pay the cab fare had stabbed him and fled on the Post Road, according to Jennings' arrest affidavit. Officers found the driver bleeding profusely from his right hand, and paramedics treated the wound. He gave police a written statement about the alleged assault before returning to New York to receive sutures for his hand wound.
The driver told police he picked up Jennings outside a midtown hotel. The driver agreed to take him to Connecticut for $204, the standard rate set by the Taxi and Limousine Commission, according to the affidavit. The taxi driver told police the fare seemed drunk. Jennings agreed to the fare, and fell asleep in the taxi after stopping at a deli on 10th Avenue, the warrant said.
The cabbie woke up Jennings between exits 10 and 11 on Interstate 95 and drove him to his Darien home, where Jennings allegedly told the driver he did not feel like paying him. The driver told police Jennings tried to offer him $50. The driver tried to call police but didn't have cell phone service. He drove away from Jennings' driveway and said he was looking for police.
According to the taxi driver, Jennings said he was going to call the cops himself and that they wouldn't do anything to him because he pays $10,000 in taxes, the affidavit said. As the taxi driver kept traveling through Darien, he ran a red light and saw Jennings try to escape the cab several times.
During the drive through Darien, the cabbie told police that Jennings yelled, "'I'm going to kill you,'" several times before reaching through the cab's partition between the front and back seats, according to the affidavit. The driver said he saw Jennings had a small knife, and that Jennings said, "I'm going to kill you, you should go back to your country!'" the affidavit said.
The driver told police he felt Jennings tried to stab him in his neck. He tried to block the attack and Jennings cut his hand, the affidavit said. The driver said he feared for his life that night, and he called 911 after trying to track down Jennings.
Jennings hired Riccio after hearing police wanted to question the passenger in the incident, and Riccio contacted police on Jan. 3. The following day he brought the Morgan Stanley executive into Darien police headquarters for an interview. Jennings told police he was on vacation in Florida over the Christmas holiday and received a phone call from a friend who knew about the incident with the taxi driver. The friend told Jennings he read about the same incident in the Darien Times and that the police were seeking the individual involved.
Jennings gave police his own version of events, explaining that he flagged down a cab after attending a holiday party at the roof-top bar of a midtown hotel after attending a daylong charity auction, according to the affidavit. Jennings told police he had been drinking throughout the day, but didn't feel intoxicated. Jennings said the taxi driver and he did not agree to a flat rate for the trip to Connecticut. Jennings told police he used a car service that charges between $125 and $150 and he assumed a taxi would cost the same.
The driver asked for $300 once they got to Jennings' driveway, and he felt the driver was ripping him off. Jennings offered to pay $160. The driver refused the amount and drove away from Jennings' house with him still in the backseat, Jennings told police.
Jennings said he tried to escape the taxi several times, and that the driver told him he was returning to New York if he couldn't pay him. Jennings said he took out his cell phone and tried to call police, realizing he had a small pen knife with a 2.5-inch blade. Jennings said the driver reached back through the partition and tried to grab the phone. He told the driver he had a knife and not to reach back again, Jennings told police.
The driver ended up grabbing the knife and cut his hand, Jennings said. The driver pulled over about 30 yards away from the Darien Sport Shop, and Jennings jumped out of the cab and ran through a small park and back to his home.
Darien detectives noted that Jennings did not make any attempt to call police during or after the dispute. Jennings told police he was afraid the driver would come after him because he knew where he lived. Detectives became skeptical, and they asked Jennings why didn't those fears give him more of a reason to contact police, according to the affidavit. Jennings told police he didn't know what to do, and he just wanted to "make the whole thing go away."
An additional investigation discredited part of Jennings' claim that the taxi driver reached back into the cab while he was driving, Darien police wrote in the affidavit.
Darien police Detective Chester Perkowski said he met with the driver and photographed his cab a few days after Jennings gave his statement. Perkowski had the alleged victim sit in the drivers' seat and reach through the partition opening into the back seat. Perkowski concluded it was "highly impossible" for the driver to reach through the partition and reach a passenger while controlling the vehicle, which Jennings claimed to have happened.
Perkowski noted that Jennings agreed to take a polygraph test on Feb. 15, but his attorney cancelled the exam because of other obligations and because he saw no benefit from the test.
During Jenning's arraignment on Friday, the judge placed the case on the Part A docket, where more serious cases are heard, and continued the case to April 12.
email@example.com; twitter.com/jmorganteen; (203) 964-2215.
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