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I-Team Special Report: Fare Warning

Updated: Tuesday, February 25, 2014 |
I-Team Special Report: Fare Warning story image
KALAMAZOO, Mich. (NEWSCHANNEL 3) - When you get into a taxi cab, do you know who is behind the wheel and if that person could be a criminal.

After a Newschannel 3 exclusive story where we showed you a Kalamazoo taxi cab driver arrested for raping a woman in his taxi, the I-Team went to work, investigating who these drivers are that we trust to take us around town.

What we found is a shockingly unregulated industry with no accountability or oversight.

The investigation into Kalamazoo taxi cabs turned up issues with safety and oversight, along with questions about the cost for a ride, which seems to change based on which taxi or driver picks you up.

They cruise around Kalamazoo day and night: zebra stripped pink limousines, minivans, and a few of the traditional variety.

And the colorful and assorted looks on the outside give some clue into what's going on inside the taxi business in Kalamazoo.

"The city of Kalamazoo has no regulations," said Scott Smith, of Elite Transportation.

Smith started Elite Transportation two years ago in Kalmazoo, and says he couldn't believe what taxi companies get away with.

He runs background checks on all his drivers, although no one requires he do it.

That became clear last month, when Godspeed Transportation driver Robert Prescott was arrested for raping a woman in his taxi.

He has a long criminal past, including a felony assault of a police officer. The alleged victim in the case told us she blamed the taxi company.

"If they would have done their due diligence on checking into him, this would have never happened to me," she told Newschannel 3. "I haven't slept a full night since it happened. This is something that I have to deal with everyday."

The owner of Godspeed told us he didn't think a background check was important.

Now, the I-Team found one Timothy Scott Merill on the Michigan sex offender registry for criminal sexual conduct with someone under 13. And he's a taxi driver for Bigg Baby taxi service.

The owner of Bigg Baby admitted to us he knows all about Merill's past, but says "it was a mistake 20 years ago. There's no reason not to give him a chance."

The I-Team wanted to check drivers to see if there are other sex offenders, but we found there is no state or local agency that keeps a list of drivers. So, we went to several taxi companies to ask for driver names; but no one would give us those.

We found Kalamazoo does have regulations on the books for taxi drivers which include background checks, but a company can avoid those regulations by simply claiming they are a limousine service.

Then they fall under the less stringent state guidelines for limos.

"I've taken cabs to the airport, sometimes it cost me ten dollars, sometimes it cost me 25 dollars," said Kalamazoo City Commissioner Don Cooney. "I go the same distance, I say to the guy, he's says this is a limousine; I said I just called a cab."

Along with the safety issues, Cooney says he questions the lack of any fixed prices and wants to see changes in the taxi rules.

But city leaders tell us right now the state law is keeping them from getting involved to change a system that even some of the taxi companies say is all over the road.

"It would benefit everybody, we would get rid of the fly by night taxis that i think has to be done in this town," Smith said.

Even though there are more strict taxi regulations in Grand Rapids and Battle Creek, the problem of companies skirting regulation as limos is happening statewide.

The I-Team took the issue to state leaders and is already getting action.
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Business News

Last Update on September 02, 2014 17:28 GMT

ECONOMY-MANUFACTURING

WASHINGTON (AP) -- U.S. manufacturing grew in August at the strongest pace in more than three years as factories cranked out more goods and new orders rose.

The Institute for Supply Management, a trade group of purchasing managers, says its manufacturing index rose to 59 from 57.1 in July. Anything above 50 signals that manufacturing is growing.

A gauge of production rose to the highest level in four years, and a measure of new orders jumped to its highest in 10 years. That suggests that the sector should continue to grow in the coming months.

CONSTRUCTION SPENDING

WASHINGTON (AP) -- U.S. construction spending staged a strong rebound in July, rising by the largest amount in more than two years. All major categories of construction showed gains in an encouraging sign that spending on building projects will help boost the economy in the second half of this year.

The Commerce Department says construction spending rose 1.8 percent in July, the biggest one-month gain since May 2012. It followed a 0.9 percent decline in June, the largest setback in a year. That decline had been blamed in part on soggy weather which depressed construction activity in many parts of the country.

The July rebound pushed total construction to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of $981.3 billion, the highest level since December 2008. Spending on housing, non-residential and government projects all increased.

HOME PRICES

WASHINGTON (AP) -- U.S. home prices rose in July but at a slower rate compared with earlier this year.

Real estate data provider CoreLogic says prices rose 7.4 percent in July from July 2013. That was slightly below June's year-over-year increase of 7.5 percent.

Prices rose 1.2 percent in July from June.

The smaller price gains should make homes more affordable and support sales. The average 30-year fixed mortgage rate was 4.1 percent last week, the lowest in a year. And the number of available homes rose 3.5 percent in July to the most in nearly two years. A greater supply tends to limit the bidding wars that inflate prices.

UKRAINE-ECONOMY

BRUSSELS (AP) -- The International Monetary Fund says Ukraine will need billions of dollars in additional support if the fighting between the military and Russian-backed separatists in the country's east persists.

In its first in-depth assessment since granting the country a $17 billion bailout program in March, the IMF said Tuesday "risks loom large" for the country's economy.

It says the bailout program already faces a $3.5-billion funding shortfall through 2015, with the economy forecast to shrink by 6.5 percent this year. Analysts say Ukraine's gross domestic product might tumble even more.

It says if the fighting in the eastern region -- representing about 16 percent of Ukraine's GDP -- were to persist through next year, Kiev would likely need additional support worth $19 billion only to shore up its central bank reserves.

NEW NATURAL GAS PIPELINE

NEW YORK (AP) -- Dominion Resources, Duke Energy and other partners have proposed building a $5 billion natural gas pipeline to connect the Southeast with the prodigious supplies of natural gas being produced in Pennsylvania, Ohio and West Virginia.

Gas is being relied upon to generate more of the nation's electricity in recent years because the enormous new domestic supplies have drastically lowered its price and it burns cleaner than the nation's other most important fuel for electric power, coal.

The 550-mile project will begin in Harrison County, West Virginia and stretch to Robeson County, North Carolina, in the southern part of the state.

The partners, which included Piedmont Natural Gas and AGL Resources, expect to receive regulatory approval by mid-2016 and to start operating the pipeline in 2018.

HALLIBURTON-SPILL SETTLEMENT

HOUSTON (AP) -- Halliburton says it has agreed to pay $1.1 billion to settle a substantial portion of plaintiff claims arising from the 2010 Gulf of Mexico oil spill.

The settlement, which is subject to court approval, will be paid into a trust until appeals are resolved over the next two years.

Halliburton was BP PLC's cement contractor on the drilling rig that exploded in the Gulf in April 2010, killing 11 workers and triggering the largest offshore oil spill in U.S. history.

The deal will settle claims assigned to Halliburton as a result of BP's settlement in 2012 and punitive damages from the loss of property or commercial fishing activity resulting from the oil spill.

DOLLAR GENERAL-FAMILY DOLLAR

GOODLETTSVILLE, Tenn. (AP) -- Dollar General is boosting its bid for rival Family Dollar to approximately $9.1 billion and says it's now willing to more than double the number of stores it would shed to avoid trouble with regulators.

The newest bid from Dollar General is worth $80 per share, up from $78.50. Dollar General's previous bid, worth nearly $9 billion, was rejected by Family Dollar in favor of an offer of about $8.5 billion from Dollar Tree Inc.

Dollar General Corp. says it will now divest 1,500 stores to steer clear of antitrust issues. It previously said it would divest up to 700 stores. The Goodlettsville, Tennessee company has also agreed to pay a $500 million reverse break-up fee to Family Dollar Stores Inc. if the deal runs into antitrust roadblocks.

COMPUWARE-TAKEOVER

UNDATED (AP) -- Private equity firm Thoma Bravo is spending about $2.5 billion to buy Compuware and take the software developer private.

The companies say Compuware stock owners will receive about $10.92 for each share they own. That price includes mostly cash and some stock from Compuware spin-off Covisint.

It represents a premium of about 17 percent to the Detroit company's Friday closing price.

Compuware says its board unanimously approved the deal and recommends shareholders vote for it as well. Activist investor Elliott Management has already agreed to vote in favor of the deal. Elliott holds more than a 9 percent stake in Compuware Corp. and tried to acquire the company last year.

Thoma Bravo and Compuware expect the deal to close early next year.

Shares of Compuware are soaring in morning trading.

NORWEGIAN CRUISE LINE-PRESTIGE-ACQUISITION

NEW YORK (AP) -- Norwegian Cruise Line is getting into the luxury cruise business by acquiring Prestige Cruises International in a deal worth about $3 billion.

Prestige operates high-end cruise lines Oceania Cruises and Regent Seven Seas Cruises.

Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings Ltd., based in Miami, values the deal at $3.025 billion, when debt is included. Its shares are up more than 10 percent today.

Prestige is owned by the private equity firm Apollo Global management LLC, which also owns a large stake in Norwegian.

The deal is expected to close in the fourth quarter.

1-800-FLOWERS-HARRY & DAVID

1-800-FLOWERS buying Harry & David for $142.5M

CARLE PLACE, N.Y. (AP) -- 1-800-FLOWERS.COM Inc. is buying Harry & David for $142.5 million to help broaden the assortment of foods that its customers can choose as gifts.

The deal includes Harry & David Holdings Inc.'s brands, websites, 47 retail stores, some plants, orchards and its headquarters in Medford, Oregon.

Harry & David's fruit, food and other gifts are housed under brands including Wolferman's, Cushman's and its namesake. Products include Royal Riviera pears, Wolferman's specialty English muffins and Cushman's HoneyBells citrus gifts.

1-800-FLOWERS' brands already include Fannie May, Cheryl's and The Popcorn Factory.

The transaction is expected to close in October.

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