Written by Trish Mollo
Young women in New Paltz say they have been the targets of lewd behavior, sexual comments, and unwanted advancements by taxi drivers in the village.
In recent months, two taxi drivers have been arrested or fired from their jobs for touching young women, police and other sources said. But several young women say one of the biggest culprits of illicit sexual advances is still driving on the streets and picking up passengers every night.
Several women shared stories about Raj Deol, the owner and primary driver at Artist Taxi, who they accused of making sexual advancements, texting them at inappropriate times, asking improper things and also finding them on several social media platforms. Police are aware of Deol's behavior, and sources say that he has been subject to police inquiry before.
Passengers who got into Deol's taxi in recent months tell harrowing stories of his advances.
One victim said she was out late with friends at McGillicuddy’s on a Friday night in New Paltz. At around 3 a.m. she approached Deol, who was sitting outside the bars waiting for people to come out and be picked up. After a five minute drive with casual conversation, Deol pulled into the victim’s driveway and made sexual advances at her when she told him she was short two dollars. The victim, disturbed, said she threw him five dollars and ran into her house.
“I personally don’t take his cab anymore”, said Sophia Valentin. “He hasn’t made any physical advancements at me, but he has sent me multiple messages on several occasions.”
Deol found Valentin on Snapchat by using her personal number that she used to called his taxi service. Valentin says that Deol has messaged her on Snap asking if she is going out or if she is busy. Valentin says she usually doesn’t respond, but when she has told him she’s busy, he’s made comments on how much of a “busy girl” she is. Valentin also said that Deol texted her personal number one time after she used another taxi service saying, “I think I’ll kill you”.
Valentin is not the only woman who has had to deal with Deol sending them unwanted messages after riding in his cab.
“I’ve had quite the experience with him”, said Julia Catalanello.
While using his taxi services, Deol followed Catalanello on Instagram after showing her his artwork. Out of politeness, Catalanello says she followed him back. Deol since has been messaging her even though she has yet replied and unfollowed him.
When confronted about these situations, Deol said that he texts many students because he believes they are his friends. He also denied making any physical advancements to women in his taxi claiming, “this is my business”, and once again saying that the women that enter his taxi are his friends.
Last year, Ayman Aboueida, 47, a Kingston taxi driver was arrested by New Paltz Police and charged with one count of forcible touching, one count of attempted forcible touching, and one count of harassment second as a hate crime. These charges came after three different women studying at SUNY New Paltz came forth and told their stories. There is still a warrant out for Aboueida’s arrest. Robert Lucchesi, New Paltz police lieutenant, says that they believe he fled the country.
Although there hasn’t been any outstanding complaints recently made to police, Lucchesi still encourages people to call with any dissatisfactions they have.
“Most likely, you are not the only victim”, said Lucchesi.
These are not the only drivers who have been accused of making sexual advances at drunk women inside their vehicle. One victim, who requested to remain anonymous, said that her instance wasn’t nearly as harrowing as some others she has heard but still was enough for her to never use Green Taxi again.
“He kissed me, I rejected the advance and I got out of the car, that was probably 4 years ago” the victim says. “I don't let any girl I know get in that cab if she is alone and drunk.”
Saadiq, the accused driver who kissed this victim hasn’t worked at Green Taxi for as long as Joanie Corrales has worked there, which is over a year. She says that she hasn’t had any negative reports about their drivers since she’s worked there, but she has heard some bad things about Raj Deol from members of the community.
A more recent story comes from a student at SUNY New Paltz who also asked to remain anonymous. She doesn’t remember the service she took that night, but she does remember the inappropriate comments that were made by her taxi driver. The driver first dropped off the man she was seeing, and once alone, showed her pictures of him shirtless with money all over.
“He told me how he can still fuck like a teenager even though he is 30 years old”, the source said.
Cynthia Craft, an advocate with the Ulster County Crime Victims Association Program, says that her program is in touch with bouncers at New Paltz bars, and that they are more intune with which taxi services are safe for young drunk women.
“These taxi drivers are targeting a vulnerable population”, she says.
Craft’s office is room 422 in the Student Union building and advocates for victims of all incidents. If you are not a student at SUNY New Paltz, and need to talk to someone about a similar situation, you can contact the Ulster County Crime Victims’ Assistance Program located in Kingston, NY.
“We are here and available to help you” says Craft.