New Orleans cab driver, accused of fondling woman, charged with sexual battery _lowres

Said Bensalem

A New Orleans cab driver is due to appear in court this week on allegations that he fondled the breasts of a woman riding in his taxi several weeks ago.

Said Bensalem, 31, faces one count of misdemeanor sexual battery. He is scheduled to be arraigned Wednesday in Municipal Court and is free on $15,000 bail.

The accusation, which has not previously been reported, stems from a ride that Bensalem gave to a woman in early September.

According to police, the woman was waiting for a bus near Tulane and Loyola avenues when she spotted a cab. She asked Bensalem how much the ride would cost. “Free, my friend,” came the response, according to court documents.

Soon after the woman climbed in, police allege, Bensalem began using a translation application on his cellphone in an attempt to communicate with her in Spanish. He allegedly told her she had large breasts, court records show.

The woman told the driver she wanted to go to a Winn-Dixie store on Williams Boulevard in Kenner, and she borrowed the driver’s phone to call her husband to tell him where she was.

After a while, the woman did not recognize the area and did not know where Bensalem was driving her.

“At some point,” Detective Claudia Bruce wrote in a court filing, “the taxicab driver stopped and exited the vehicle in a secluded area.”

Bensalem opened the back door and told the woman to get out. “After she exited the vehicle,” Bruce wrote, the driver “began to feel on her breasts and rub his genital area.”

When the woman resisted, the driver stopped and motioned for her to get back into the cab, according to police.

Back in the vehicle, the driver turned on the fare meter, which had not previously been activated. He then drove the woman to the supermarket, charging a fare of $23.

The woman did not recall the cab driver’s name, but investigators identified Bensalem because the woman had used his cellphone . The woman then identified Bensalem in a photo lineup.

Police obtained a search warrant to view surveillance footage from Bensalem’s cab.

Bensalem drove for American Cab Co., according to court documents. He was suspended on Sept. 30, the day of his arrest, said Hayne Rainey, a City Hall spokesman.

Bensalem is not the first New Orleans cab driver to be accused of a crime in the past few years. Earlier this year, Sohail Khan, who drove for Yellow Cab, pleaded guilty to raping and kidnapping a 20-year-old woman who had passed out in his back seat in 2013.

In late January, another driver, Simion Hachi, was accused of viciously beating a businessman after a disagreement over the fare.

Follow Jim Mustian on Twitter, @JimMustian.