Taxi Mogul Solomon Bekele Speaks
In his column this week on the D.C. taxi industry, LL mentioned the name of Solomon Bekele—calling him "almost a mythic figure, a bogeyman, in local taxi circles."
LL was not able to speak to Bekele prior to his Tuesday deadline, but he has since gotten in touch.
In the course of interviewing various figures in the taxi industry, Bekele's name came up repeatedly—not, mind you, as anyone who is directly involved in the ongoing scandal, but as someone who cuts a wide swath in the taxicab world.
Bekele these days is the proprietor of Crown Captive Insurance Co., one of a small handful companies operating in the city that specialize in taxi insurance, which is quite different from the six-month policy you might buy from GEICO or State Farm. Taxi policies are rarely more than two weeks in duration, and are usually sold to drivers through the taxi companies most affiliate with.
But Bekele's reputation outgrows merely owning an insurance company—time and again, figures in the cab industry, speaking anonymously, mentioned his name with a mixture of awe and suspicion. Much of that can be traced to his history in Atlanta, where Bekele controlled a large share of the taxi market through companies he owned. (The Atlanta Journal-Constitution called him "Atlanta's taxi king" in 2001.) Still, Bekele says there's no basis for any suspicions.
Asked about his involvement in stumping for a Atlanta-like medallion system, he says: "None whatsoever. I'm in the insurance business."
Bekele, a Potomac resident, explains that some people had approached him to inquire about how medallion systems work in cities like Boston, New York, and Atlanta—that's it; no contact with elected officials or policymakers on the matter. "I have from time to time, when requested by interested cab drivers or companies, expressed my experience in the matter of medallions," he would write in an e-mail to LL, referring to his advice as "considered opinion." (That's not necessarily at odds with what LL reported—that Bekele is a "strong backer" of such a system, which was based on conversations with several anonymous sources, who recall Bekele advocating for a shift.)
So what accounts for all the mentions of his name? "You call this jealousy," he says. "These are people from the same hometown....These kind rumors are politically motivated." To wit, connected to his advocacy for human rights and open elections in Ethiopia, not his involvement in the taxi industry.
And regarding his connection to Yitbarek Syume, indicted as a ringleader in the alleged bribery scheme, Bekele says there's barely any. Syume bought his insurance, he says, and he went to Syume's garage on 5th Street NE "maybe three to four times a year" to get his cars fixed. "He knows the cars," he says.
Bekele called LL again this afternoon, saying his mention in the column was unfair. "It's almost a riot out there," he declared, saying that the column had only served to stoke suspicions. "You're flaring up a lot of emotions here!"