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Uber Driver Kidnapped and Groped Woman, Prosecutors Say. She Was Billed $1,047.

The woman called an Uber car in Manhattan late one night in February to take her home to the nearby suburb of White Plains, New York. She was exhausted and fell asleep in the back seat.

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Benjamin Weiser
, New York Times

The woman called an Uber car in Manhattan late one night in February to take her home to the nearby suburb of White Plains, New York. She was exhausted and fell asleep in the back seat.

She woke to discover that the car had stopped and the driver was in the back seat with her, his hand under her shirt, touching her breast, federal prosecutors said Tuesday. The woman reached for her cellphone to call for help, but the driver grabbed it from her.

He eventually left her on the side of Interstate 95 near New Haven, Connecticut, prosecutors said. Her credit card was later charged $1,047.55 for a trip to Massachusetts.

The driver, Harbir Parmar, 24, of Howard Beach, Queens, was arrested Tuesday and charged with kidnapping and wire fraud, the government said. If convicted of the kidnapping charge, he could face life in prison. (Parmar did not face a charge related to the alleged touching.)

The incident, as described in a criminal complaint unsealed Tuesday in federal court in White Plains, was not only every taxi passenger’s nightmare, but it underscored a long-running debate about the screening of taxi and ride-hail drivers and whether more safeguards, like panic buttons in the back seat, are needed.

“No one — man or woman — should fear such an attack when they simply hire a car service,” said Geoffrey S. Berman, the U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York. Berman announced the charges along with William F. Sweeney Jr., the head of the FBI’s New York office, and James P. O’Neill, the New York police commissioner.

“This individual’s behavior goes far beyond ride-sharing companies’ efforts to revise their ethics codes and put stronger emphasis on background checks for their drivers,” O’Neill said.

Uber said in a statement that it had “fully cooperated” with law enforcement and would support its investigation.

“What’s been reported is horrible and something no person should go through,” the company said. “As soon as we became aware, we immediately removed this individual’s access to the platform.”

The company said Parmar was blocked from the Uber app in February and had not provided a trip on Uber’s platform since then. Uber also said the woman’s fare was refunded within days.

Parmar appeared Tuesday before a magistrate judge, Judith C. McCarthy, in U.S. District Court in White Plains. She set bond at $100,000, secured by $10,000 in cash from Parmar’s parents, who were in the courtroom.

“The presumption of innocence remains with my client,” Parmar’s federal defender, Susanne Brody, said after the hearing.

Throughout the court hearing, Parmar’s mother pressed her clenched fists to her pursed lips and rubbed her face with a gray scarf.

Allan J. Fromberg, a spokesman for New York City’s Taxi and Limousine Commission, said the commission had suspended Parmar’s TLC license “pending the criminal case.” Fromberg said Parmar had held a TLC license since December 2015.

According to the complaint, Parmar picked up the woman, who was not named, in a 2016 Toyota Highlander at about 11:30 p.m. Feb. 21.

After the assault, she tried unsuccessfully to get her phone back from Parmar, but he denied having it, the complaint said.

Parmar returned to the front seat and resumed driving, according to the complaint. It said the woman, not recognizing her surroundings, told Parmar to drive her to White Plains or to a police station, but he refused.

Parmar ultimately stopped and left her by the side of I-95, where she memorized and later wrote down his license plate number. It was about 2 a.m. when she entered a nearby convenience store, in Branford, Connecticut, and called a cab to take her to White Plains, the government said.

When Parmar was interviewed by law enforcement officers in July, he said that he knew the woman had requested to be dropped off in White Plains, according to the complaint.

It was only after she fell asleep, the complaint said, that Parmar said he changed the destination on his Uber mobile app to a location in Massachusetts.

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