Yellow Alert


Yellow Alert

The cost of a cab might go up with the gas.

By Alexander Zaitchik

If you think rising gas prices have hit you hard in the wallet, imagine if your job was to drive around in circles all day.

Miami's cabbies make their living sitting in traffic, and they have seen their incomes drop steeply in direct proportion to escalating fuel costs. Compounding the problem is a sluggish national economy, which brings fewer taxi-hailing tourists to town.

"I've never seen it this bad," says Jesus Beltran, a cabby from Colombia standing outside Las Olas Café in South Beach. "After paying for the lease and filling the tank, sometimes there's nothing left over at the end of a 12- or 14-hour shift."

Cabbies have been barking for a year about their bum luck at the pump. Last Tuesday, county commissioners finally got around to approving a one-dollar surcharge on taxi rides to help offset mounting gas prices. Mayor Carlos Alvarez has until June 13 to sign the ordinance, after which every cab trip will cost an extra dollar — before the meter even starts.

By 2009, the surcharge could reach $2.50. In approving the measure, Miami is catching up with other cities such as Chicago, which implemented a surcharge in May. But some cabbies say it's too little, too late.

"The [surcharge] should be at least two dollars," says Jorge Angulo, a veteran cabby from Peru. "And the flat rate from the airport is still $32. It should be $38, minimum. They haven't raised it since after 9/11. It's not enough."

Others say the situation is so bad that even a $38 ride from the airport wouldn't be enough to offset gas prices and the drop in tourism.

"The airport is the important ride of our day," says Antonio Santana, a 44-year-old cabby from Brazil. "It should be $48, with gas prices going up like this."

"The gas surcharge is a band-aid," says Diego Feliciano, president of the South Florida Taxi Cab Association, a group representing taxi owners, management companies, and drivers. "But the surcharge will help cabbies. That was the intention. Everyone recognizes the desperate need."

The desperate need has led some drivers to get creative. Santana says cabbies are lying to tourists about the cost of a ride to and from the airport. "When people find out they got ripped off, they're not happy," he says. "In the long-term, it's bad for tourism and bad for the city."

No matter how county commissioners adjust rates, they have no influence over the main out-of-pocket expense for cabbies: the leases on their vehicles. In the past, taxi management companies have met increases in meter rates with increases in weekly or monthly lease rates.

"Yellow Cab is the biggest cab company in town — and the biggest mafia," says one driver who declined to give his name. "They don't care that we [are] not making enough."

Most cabbies agree that labor organization is key to getting a better deal. But there is high demand for a limited number of official cabs — currently 2,000 — and competition is fierce. So for most drivers, the pain threshold is high. The extreme diversity of the cabby workforce also complicates efforts to organize.

"We all come from different countries and don't always [get along]," says Santana. "A lot of us were so poor before we came to America that no matter how hard it gets here, we don't want to make trouble. The Haitians remember the alternative. Unions are not part of their thinking."

Occasionally Miami's cabbies do organize in defense of their interests. South Beach-based drivers especially have a reputation for ad hoc resistance.

"A couple of years ago, there was [a] city inspector who wasn't being fair to the drivers," remembers one cabby who declined to give his name. "He was corrupt and issued too many bullshit violations. So some drivers got together and slashed his tires. He got the message."

Changing Tide

Estefano's Priest Has a Past

Looking for ties to a 1983 murder.

By Tamara Lush

A bizarre 25-year-old murder case might hold clues for prosecutors investigating the 2007 shooting of Latin music producer Fabio "Estefano" Salgado. Estefano was shot in the chest and head in the kitchen of his $5 million Venetian Islands home ("Pray First, Shoot Later," May 8). He survived, and his handyman, Francisco Oliveira, was charged with the crime.

But Estefano later claimed Oliveira didn't act alone. He said his former business manager, José Luis Gil, and members of his Santería temple, led by Andres Suarez, stole millions from him and wanted him dead.

The prosecutors want to know whether the duo was involved in the shooting. Their latest lead: Suarez's apparent ties to both the 2007 assault and the February 26, 1983 murder of a botanica owner named José Luis Delgado at 3075 NW 23rd Ave.

Seven months after Delgado was gunned down, Suarez, then a 31-year-old Santería priest from Cuba, was arrested on second-degree murder charges. According to a 19-page police report, he claimed to be in New Orleans at the time of the shooting. It's unclear exactly what happened next; no record of the case exists in Miami-Dade criminal court records. It's possible prosecutors never formally charged Suarez.

Strangely, a very similar account is offered by Estefano's former business manager, Gil, in a 2007 book about Santería that was dedicated to Suarez. In one chapter, Gil retells details of the 1983 homicide, saying Delgado threatened to kill Suarez.

Suarez and Delgado struggled over a gun until, Gil wrote, an "invisible force" emerged. "You see, you are not a powerful Santería leader," Suarez reportedly yelled to Delgado. "You're a cowardly bitch." The "invisible force" then shot Delgado. According to the book, Suarez told followers the charges would be dropped because of a lack of evidence. (Suarez declined comment through his attorney.)

This is stunning news for prosecutors in the Estefano shooting case. Oliveira, the accused, goes before a jury August 18. Jay Thornton, who represented Estefano in his civil case against Suarez and Gil, says, "I understand that the State Attorney's Office continues to investigate whether others were involved in Estefano's shooting. I don't believe this saga ends with Mr. Oliveira's trial. Once all the stones have been turned, I believe the reasons Estefano [brought] his civil lawsuit will become obvious, if they are not already."


Sex and the SoBe

Steamy TV Show shoots, awaits a score.

By Natalie O'Neill

It's a hot day in early June, and cameras are rolling in the back of the Sagamore Hotel when Paul emerges from the glassy pool to reveal his large, tanned muscles. Framed in the background, two bikini-clad actresses admire him.

But beyond the brawny hunk, producer Michael Jones notices the women chatting and abruptly stops the scene. "Girls, I need you to constantly be looking at Paul and giggling," he says. They give a flirty "okay" and the actor positions himself at the center of the pool, ready to dunk under for another take.

On the set of International Lovers, Paul, like 29 other male model types, plays a gigolo. The steamy TV pilot is set in Miami and is just trashy enough to be a complete hit.

The show's premise goes like this: Two gorgeous wealthy sisters inherit a hotel after their parents are killed in a car accident. When they find out the business is $10 million in the red, they come up with a scheme: The richest women in the world come to Miami Beach to vacation; why not train 30 hot men in the art of seducing the ladies out of their money?

Jones has spent $45,000 to shoot the five-minute pilot, which is being pitched as an hourlong show. His resumé includes stints as a club promoter on South Beach and as part of boxer Mike Tyson's security detail. He doesn't have a distribution deal for his new show — or any real television experience, for that matter — but he's already name-dropping networks such as Showtime, HBO, and Bravo.

Oddly enough, the press release for International Lovers states the series is based on a true story. Which is kind of true, Jones says. The idea came to him after years of promoting clubs in South Beach. "Good-looking guys would always come in with wads of money. So I asked them how they got it. And they said, 'Well, we don't work,'" he says. "That stayed on my mind for months."

Next to the pool, the tight-bodied actresses playing the sisters recline on couches in the shade with their feet up and scripts in their laps. They're wearing bathing suits with high heels and holding cigarettes.

"This is Deloris," Jones announces with a proud smile. "If this takes off big, she will be the baddest bitch around. She's like a pimp." To that, the actress blows a kiss from a few yards away, as if to signal that, indeed, she is very much like a pimp.

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Alexander Zaitchik