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Anchorage cabbie charged with sexual assault released on bail

Eli Martin

An Anchorage Yellow Cab driver has been charged with an attempted sexual assault, the Anchorage Police Department said Friday.

Abdifatah Ali, 33, was released on bail from Anchorage Correctional Complex Friday following his arrest three days earlier.

The victim, a 19-year-old woman, contacted the Anchorage Police about the assault on April 29, the same day she said the attack took place. After being picked up by a Yellow Cab from her home in southwest Anchorage in the afternoon to be taken to work, the woman asked to be let off part-way through the drive near Spenard Roadhouse on Northern Lights Boulevard after she became concerned by Ali’s behavior and personal questions.

When the woman, seated in the front passenger seat, tried to get out of the cab, the driver tried to restrain her physically and began groping her, according to the Anchorage Police Department press release. However, she escaped the vehicle and called for help.

After an investigation, police on May 24 identified Ali as a supect and issued an arrest warrant for attempted sexual assault and harassment. Ali was subsequently arrested in a traffic stop on June 18 that Anchorage police spokeswoman Dani Myren said was related to the warrant. He was arraigned that same day and was originally detained under a no-bail warrant.

While the victim is believed to have escaped serious physical harm during the alleged assault, Myren said she may have endured significant “psychological trauma.” She added the assault clearly “could have gone one step further, but she was able to get away.”

Eric Musser, an Anchorage municipal transportation inspector, said by phone that his department had not received any complaints about Ali before his arrest. “Nothing that would point to this type of incident,” he said.

Musser said all applicants for a chauffeur’s license, which is required of all licensed Anchorage taxi drivers, are required to submit a criminal record report and undergo a drug test when they apply for or renew their licenses. Any registered sex offender is ineligible to work. Ali, he said, “met all the qualifications.”

The charges against Ali mark the latest in several allegations of sexual assault against Anchorage taxi drivers during the past two years.

In May 2012, 28-year-old Checker Cab driver Paul Velasco was charged with sexually assaulting a 42-year-old woman.

And in August 2011, 43-year old Chidiebere Nwokorie, who also worked for Yellow Cab, was arrested following claims of sexual assault by several women. Nwokorie’s arrest came three days before another Yellow Cab driver, Rafael Lopez Martinez, was convicted of a 2010 sexual assault. Nwokorie is currently scheduled to go on trial next month, while Velasco’s trial week has been scheduled for the end of July.

Following Nwokorie’s arrest and public outcry against his original low bail, the Anchorage Assembly passed a proposal in September 2011 to make it easier to suspend a cab driver’s license if they had been charged with a sexual assault.

Contact Eli Martin at eli(at)alaskadispatch.com