A former San Francisco police officer known to cab drivers as “Johnny Dangerously” was found guilty by a jury Monday of accepting bribes in exchange for fixing taxicab exams, according to the District Attorney’s Office.
Officer Paul Makaveckas, 69, who worked the taxi detail for more than two decades, was in charge of grading exams for all prospective cabbies.
“This individual abused his position of power,” said District Attorney George Gascon. “He was sworn to serve the public, instead he chose to serve himself.”
In order to drive a cab in The City, one must pass the exam.
For each pass given to a cabbie, Makaveckas received $100. He collected the bribes through his friend, William Hancock, the owner of Flag-A-Cab taxi school.
Hancock then handed over all the money he collected to Makaveckas.
While he continued to hand over bribes to Makaveckas, agents with the Federal Bureau of Investigation recruited Hancock to wear a wire, which on March 10, 2009 recorded a conversation between the men, where Hancock handed over $500 in bribes.
The FBI’s inquiry into Makaveckas, a 36-year veteran of the Police Department, found he collected roughly $25,000 in bribes over a two-year period.
Makaveckas, a Fremont resident, was found guilty on two bribery charges and faces up to five years in state prison. The jury failed to reach a unanimous verdict on two additional charges. He is set to be sentenced Sept. 18.
Makaveckas could lose his pension because of the conviction. The city charter states any employee convicted of a crime of moral turpitude is not eligible to receive their pension.
Hancock pleaded guilty on March 9 to bribing a public official and is expected to be sentenced Aug. 3.
The FBI investigation originated from a tip it received on Jan. 26, 2007. Makaveckas was arrested more than three years later on Nov. 30, 2010.
Mark Gruberg, a board member of the San Francisco Taxi Workers Alliance, was not surprised by the conviction. “All I can say is that rumors abounded for many years that this was taking place. This conviction basically confirms what we were all hearing. It’s a good thing justice was done.”
Gruberg described Makaveckas as a “very flamboyant character” and said he wasn’t surprised about these charges or the conviction.
SFPD put out a press release Monday about the conviction, saying the department fully cooperated with partner agencies in securing the verdict. “Chief Suhr is grateful to the FBI, the SFPD Special Investigations Division, and the D.A.’s Office for their thorough and comprehensive investigation into this matter,” the release said. “The public’s trust is everything to us (SFPD) — as such, this case has been one of great concern. The officer involved not only betrayed the public’s trust but also the trust of the honest, dedicated, men and women of this proud department who work so hard to keep this great City safe.”
A 1997 item in the Police Officer’s Association journal noted that when an officer has an issue with a taxicab driver they should send the cab identification to “Officer Paul Makaveckas…, detail all the particulars and describe the action of the driver that you want corrected…Taxi School is held every Thursday except holidays. As one driver told me ‘I’d rather have a ticket than have to go to class..’ Taxi school evokes more fear than a citation because it’s mandatory, not appealable, and lasts about eight hours.”