Renegade Aspen cabbie back on the road
February 17, 2012
ASPEN – Fresh from a nine-day Pitkin County Jail stint for operating an illegal cab, Phil Sullivan is back on the streets of Aspen.
His attorney, Rob Couhig, of New Orleans, filed a “certificate of incorporation” with the Colorado Secretary of State’s Office earlier this week to create a nonprofit service, Free Rides for People Who Need Them Inc. Sullivan will be a volunteer driver for the 501(c)3 company.
“It allows me to operate and give my friends a free ride home, but I don’t look at it as a victory,” Sullivan said Thursday of his new arrangement.
The long name was Couhig’s suggestion, Sullivan said.
“I had a name that was much simpler,” Sullivan said.
Donations to the company will be used to maintain Sullivan’s white Kia minivan and to pay for vehicle insurance, according to a “sponsorship agreement” between Sullivan and the nonprofit that accompanies the certificate. Sullivan cannot draw a salary or receive any compensation for his time, the agreement states.
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Mona Lisa Wagner, Sullivan’s wife, is named as one of three directors of the nonprofit.
“In effect, he’s going to work for free for a nonprofit, to do what he’s been doing,” Couhig said. “It’s a way he can honor the court, follow the law and do his avocation. It’s a little novel.”
Couhig has sent copies of the certificate of incorporation and the sponsorship agreement to Pitkin County District Court as a way of showing Judge Gail Nichols that Sullivan is taking the right steps to operate a free and legal transport service. Twice in 2011, Nichols put the brakes on Sullivan, finding him guilty of contempt of her 2010 order barring him from operating a taxi and taking gratuities from riders. He does not hold a Public Utilities Commission license to operate a cab service.
In both cases, Nichols sentenced him to 15 days in jail, but through good behavior he served eight days in March 2010 on the first contempt charge and nine days in late January and early February on the second charge. For each contempt charge he faced as much as six months in jail.
Sullivan described his time in jail as uneventful. The food was fine, he said.
“I was warned that they don’t want me back again for a long, long time,” Sullivan said, declining to elaborate on the situation.
Documents filed with the court say that Free Rides for People Who Need Them was formed “with the purpose of providing improved transportation for the elderly, people with disabilities, and for the residents and visitors of Aspen and surrounding rural areas and towns.”
Todd Gardener, president of High Mountain Taxi, could not be reached for comment Thursday. Over the past few years, Gardener and some of his drivers have been critical of Sullivan, saying that the rogue cabbie flagrantly skirts the state Public Utilities Commission rules that other cabbies and cab companies are made to follow.
In fact, before the Jan. 20 sentencing on Sullivan’s second contempt violation, several cabbies signed a letter that complained about Sullivan’s activities to the judge, hoping it would affect his sentence. Nichols read the letter but said in court that it would not affect her decision.
Sullivan, who ran the Mellow Yellow Taxi service in Aspen during the 1970s, said there are a few details concerning the setup for the nonprofit service that he needs to study. While he has a few concerns about the operation his attorney has created, he said at least it means “the PUC can’t get after me anymore.”