A two-year FBI sting at Honolulu Airport is shining a harsh light on questionable business practices at one of the world's busiest airports.
Hawaii News Now interviewed several FBI informants, who said they made dozens of payments to private security guards working for state contractor Securitas. Cab companies that don't make payoffs said it's a well-known practice that needs to be curbed.
"It's just a common understanding on the curbside that if you work with certain companies, you will be allowed kickbacks," said Heather Forshner-Jensen, who works as a greeter at the airport for Charley's Taxi.
Forshner-Jensen said some guards allow competitors to remain at the airport's traffic islands beyond their allotted time, while her company's drivers are shooed away within minutes.
"I myself have taken photos of license plates and have timed them myself," she said. "I've stood next to this van and it's been parked for an hour, and when I asked, they said 'oh we know them, it's so and so.'"
Drivers and shuttle operators are allowed to park at the airport traffic islands for up to 15 minutes to wait for customers, who make reservations in advance.
According to one FBI informant, private security guards would harass drivers who don't make payments even before their allotted 15 minutes are up. Drivers who made the payments were allowed to stay longer, they said.
Cab companies and their drivers have grumbled for years about a culture of payoffs. But many declined to comment for the record for fear of retaliation.
One of the FBI's informants said the problem is rampant.
"They would pay the guards, give them iPhones, strong arm tactics," said "Lou," who videotaped nearly a dozen payoffs to security workers.
Forshner-Jensen said the alleged favoritism hurts businesses that don't pay. "It just makes it really impossible for there to be any type of rotation for any of the other drivers," she said.