NEW YORK (AP) — An Uber driver in New York City kidnapped a woman who fell asleep in his vehicle, groped her in the back seat and then left her on the side of a highway in Connecticut, federal authorities said Tuesday.
Harbir Parmar, 24, of Queens, was charged in U.S. District Court with kidnapping.
“The presumption of innocence remains with my client,” Parmar’s lawyer, Susanne Brody, told The New York Times at the courthouse after the hearing.
The FBI said in court papers that Parmar picked the woman up in Manhattan at 11:30 p.m. Feb. 21 for a trip to her home in White Plains, New York, about an hour away. The woman fell asleep, authorities said, and Parmar changed her destination to an address in Boston, Massachusetts.
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The woman woke up to find the driver “with his hand under her shirt touching the top of her breast,” according to a criminal complaint unsealed Tuesday.
The woman reached for her phone, the complaint said, but Parmar took it from her and continued driving. She asked the driver to take her to the police station but Parmar refused, the complaint said.
Parmar eventually left the woman on the side of Interstate 95 in Branford, Connecticut, about an hour’s drive east of her home. The complaint said the woman memorized Parmar’s license plate and called a cab from a nearby convenience store.
The woman later learned that Uber had charged her more than $1,000 for a trip from New York to Massachusetts. Uber said that amount was later refunded.
Federal authorities and New York police condemned Parmar’s behavior as reprehensible.
“No one — man or woman — should fear such an attack when they simply hire a car service,” U.S. Attorney Geoffrey Berman said in a statement.
Uber said it blocked Parmar from using the app after the alleged kidnapping occurred.
“What’s been reported is horrible and something no person should go through. As soon as we became aware, we immediately removed this individual’s access to the platform. We have fully cooperated with law enforcement and will continue to support their investigation,” the company said in a statement.
The company’s CEO, Dara Khosrowshahi, said over the summer that he hoped to make Uber the “safest transportation platform on the planet,” after enduring years of criticism that it wasn’t doing enough to screen drivers. That included adding a new feature to the app that is supposed to alert both passengers and drivers if a car makes an unplanned stop.
The state of Colorado fined Uber $8.9 million last year for allowing people with criminal records to work as drivers. New York City requires ride-hailing service drivers to go through a licensing process similar to the one it has for traditional limo and car service drivers.
The New York City Taxi & Limousine Commission said it suspended Parmar’s license, which he has had since December 2015, pending the criminal case’s outcome. Spokesman Allan Fromberg said Parmar’s violation history was clean.
Federal authorities also charged Parmar with wire fraud, accusing him of overcharging Uber riders by inputting false information about their destinations.
The complaint said he also reported “false information” about cleaning fees that he charged to Uber riders on at least three occasions, including the woman he allegedly groped and left on the side of the road.
Parmar later admitted to the FBI that the woman had not vomited in his vehicle, according to the criminal complaint.