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Bronx Council Member Used Cop Connections to Beat Ticket While Driving

12:59 PM EST on February 13, 2020

Council Member Vanessa Gibson. Photo: John McCarten

Bronx Council Member Vanessa Gibson has been fined for using her NYPD connections as chair of the Public Safety committee to get out of a ticket that she received in 2014 for driving while using a cellphone, the Conflict of Interest Board announced on Thursday.

According to the finding, Gibson had been driving on March 11, 2014 when she was pulled over and told she was going to be written up for using her cellphone while driving, a $50 violation (if it was a first offense), plus a $93 surcharge and five points on a driver's license. Gibson told the officer, later identified by the Daily News as Michele Hernandez, that she had not been using her cellphone.

When the officer persisted in writing the ticket, Gibson pulled out the very cellphone in question and called the Deputy Chief of the 44th Precinct, with whom she admitted she "regularly interacted ... to discuss a range of issues" as part of her "official duties" on the Council. The Deputy Chief was later ID'd as Kevin Catalina.

According to the board, Gibson told Catalina what was happening, claiming she had not been using her cellphone. She also claimed that she did not ask for any favors, but she did hand her phone to the cop so the cop could discuss the matter with her boss.

Catalina may not have been explicitly asked for a favor, but he granted one, ordering Hernandez to stop writing the ticket, according to the board report.

"[Catalina] told [Hernandez] that I was head of the Public Safety Committee and asked [Hernandez] to admonish me instead of issuing a summons," Gibson admitted in the finding against her, which was issued on Thursday.

It's the first time she has admitted anything about the incident. When the Daily News wrote about the incident after it came to light as part of an unrelated suit in 2016, Gibson issued a statement that she did "not recall this incident from March of 2014, but always takes very seriously and complies with all of our traffic laws."

Gibson was fined $5,000 for violating section 2604(b)(3) of the City Charter, which clearly states that "no public servant shall use his or her position as a public servant to obtain any financial gain, contract, license, privilege, or other private or personal advantage ... from any person or firm associated with the public servant."

In paying the fine, Gibson did not really admit wrongdoing. She did not admit that she was driving while talking on her cellphone, and she did not explicitly admit that she called in a favor, though the $5,000 fine suggests both.

The NYPD did not respond to a question from Streetsblog about whether Catalina was ever disciplined for his role in granting the favor to an elected official.

Gibson did not return a call for comment, but later issued a statement to the NY Times:

“I should have accepted a ticket if one was issued, and then contested it through the appropriate legal channels. I apologize to our community for my actions, accept full responsibility for my conduct, and will abide by C.O.I.B.’s ruling,” Gibson told the paper.

It's not the first time street safety watchers have had issues with Gibson. In 2010, Gibson, then an Assembly Member, gave a fairly lame explanation after she was caught parking in a bike lane on the Grand Concourse.

The report on Gibson is the second time this week that a Council Member has been caught for vehicular transgressions. Earlier this week, Council Member Paul Vallone voted against a bill that would hold reckless drivers accountable — only to be exposed as a recidivist scofflaw himself.

Read the report for yourself below.

COIB Disposition (Council Member Gibson) by Gersh Kuntzman on Scribd

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