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Judge rules in favor of Winchester taxis

Harrisonburg owner is found guilty of unlawfully operating his service in city

By Alex Bridges -- abridges@nvdaily.com

WINCHESTER -- A Harrisonburg taxi company has illegally operated cabs in Winchester, a judge ruled this week.

Judge Amy Tisinger found Sohail Gull Afridi guilty Wednesday in Winchester Circuit Court on three counts of unlawfully operating his taxicab service out of compliance, a class 1 misdemeanor.

Representatives of three Winchester-based taxi companies filed complaints in the court against Afridi, identified as the owner of Benish Corp., for running cabs in the city at least seven months before obtaining a certificate of public convenience and necessity from the Police Department. City code requires a company receive such a certificate in order to operate a service in Winchester.

Afridi pleaded not guilty to each of the three charges as well as one count of using profanity over a public airway. The judge found Afridi not guilty of the latter charge because the evidence given by the complainants did not rise to the level needed to convict.

Local attorney William "Beau" Bassler represented people affiliated with the taxicab companies: Ron Pruitt, John Nelson and Richard "Randy" Cadmus Jr. They represented Taxi USA, Polly's Cab and Yellow Cab, respectively. Bassler was appointed as a special prosecutor in the case because City Attorney Anthony "Tony" Williams recused himself.

A number of city police employees appeared at the adjudicatory hearing as witnesses called by the prosecutor, according to Cadmus.

Afridi admitted to the court that he ran Royal Cab taxis in the city for seven months before he received the certificate from Police Chief Kevin Sanzenbacher, Cadmus recalled.

Whitacre ordered Afridi to pay a $150 fine and court costs, which the defendant has paid, according to online records. Afridi received no jail time.

Cadmus said the outcome could help bolster their civil suit in Winchester Circuit Court, which alleges Afridi and Benish Corp. violated city ordinance on taxi services.

But the judge's ruling may not necessarily mean an end to Royal Cab running taxis in the city.

Sanzenbacher said he has to view the court documents related to the case before he can determine whether the convictions warrant his revocation of the certificate.

"I'd be surprised, I mean, the law is not clear as to what level of offense would have to be reached in order for us to try and revoke their certificate," the chief said. "I don't want to take away anybody's livelihood. I've always interpreted that to mean my right to deny a certificate or take it away would have to be a crime of moral turpitude or drug involvement or sex offense or something of a serious nature, rather than basically a violation of a city ordinance."

Meanwhile, Cadmus has filed complaints against Afridi and co-owner Nadeem Afridi in Harrisonburg-Rockingham General District Court for allegedly committing a business certificate violation and for failing to register Royal Cab properly with the State Corporation Commission.

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