The Amazing, Improbable, But Arguably Brilliant Career of Sam Sloan

By DAN ACKMAN

 

Next time you take a taxi, check the driver's name, and if it's Sam Sloan, ask for a ride to Kennedy Airport or out to Rockaway and back. Even if you intended to head just down the street, you'll want to extend the trip so you can ask the driver about his life.

Maybe Sloan will tell you about the time he was in prison in Afghanistan—or Virginia. Maybe he'll tell you about the time he argued a case on his own behalf in the United States Supreme Court-- as a non-lawyer-- and won. Or maybe you can ask Sloan about his days paling around the city with a fellow teenage chess player named Bobby Fisher. Or he'll tell you about the time he ran for state assembly in Bedford-Stuyvesant on an anti-rent control ticket and lost by just 2000 votes.   

Unfortunately, if the New York Taxi and Limousine Commission has its way, this ride will never happen.  It's not because Sloan, 57, has no such stories to tell—he does, and it seems they're all true. It's because Sloan has been persistently denied his hack license and is thus locked in what he calls a "death struggle" with the TLC.

In the course of discussing his instant battle, Sloan alludes to past wars, such as the time he argued in the U.S. Supreme Court in case having something to do with Sloan's career on Wall Street. Somewhere in there he mentions that he dabbles in 15 languages, wrote the dictionary for a Pakistani dialect, can program a computer, and is a tournament-level chess player.

None of these activities have been very lucrative of late , so Sloan, gray and bedraggled, had tried to revive the taxi driver's license he held a few years earlier. Informed he was too late to renew, Sloan took the taxi driver's course and passed the test. But the commission refused to issue a license, insisting Sloan had some unsettled violations on his record. Sloan tried every which way to appeal, claiming convincingly that the summons in question was never issued, at least not to him; perhaps it had been sent to another Sam Sloan.

Still, "as surely as the night follows the day, petitioner's attempts to resume his career as a taxi driver met with difficulty after difficulty," wrote Justice Diane Lebedeff in a February 27, 2002 ruling in Sloan's favor. As the Byzantine appeal process continued, Sloan's standing with the TLC just kept getting worse. But with two years of his life invested in the struggle, Sloan refuses to give in.

Sam Sloan was born and raised in Virginia and attended college at Berkeley starting in 1962. Though involved in campus politics—Sloan was president of the Campus Sexual Rights Forum—he was working for a semester in New York when the Free Speech Movement was at its zenith.  Sloan returned to the city in 1967 and found his way into a job on Wall Street. In 1970, he started his own one-man broker dealer.

Within a year or so, a Securities and Exchange Commission inspector asked to examine his customer records. Sloan told the man, "I don't have any customer records; I have no customers." That inspector left, but others followed in his wake. By 1975, a federal judge found him in guilty mostly technical SEC rules. Though Sloan now says, "Really none of them were actually violations," he was ordered out of the securities business.   

On his way out, though, Sloan exacted a measure of revenge. He sued the SEC over it policy of suspending the trading of penny stocks—the same stocks Sloan traded—over and over.  The case wound up in the United States Supreme Court, Sam Sloan arguing on his own behalf. Arguing the other side was the SEC's young general counsel, Harvey Pitt. By the time the high court decided the case, Sloan was in jail in Afghanistan.

After his foray in the high court, Sloan decided to travel east. He bought a used Volkswagen in Germany, drove across Europe, through Turkey and Iran and into Afghanistan, having become fascinated by its culture. This was 1978, and few in the west knew that Afghanistan was in the beginning of a revolution. After driving around for a few weeks, on June 3, 1978, he was arrested. "I had no idea why I was in jail," he says. He soon figured out, however, that the Afghans thought he was a spy, which Sloan vehemently denies. "To me the whole idea was preposterous, the idea that I was spy driving around in a Volkswagen Beatle."

Convinced that his jailers were planning to shoot him, Sloan decided to escape. He did, choosing a Thursday evening for his getaway because the underpaid and ill-trained guards tended to leave work early for the Moslem Sabbath. He made his way via a camel trail in the desert to a road where he boarded the first of several buses that wound up in Kabul. He found his way to the U.S. Embassy, whose officers were oblivious to the revolution in the countryside, he says. They were, however, able to tell him the outcome of his Supreme Court case. Sloan had won 9-0.

On his way out of Afghanistan, Sloan was jailed briefly again. A CIA agent bailed him out, and eventually his car and even most of the $2000 cash he had when he was arrested the first time was returned to him.  The agent was Warren Marik, who in the 1990s led CIA operations in Iraq.

On the way out of Afghanistan, Sloan sojourned in Chitral, Pakistan, in the same wild territory where some believe Osama Bin Laden is still hiding. His stay there led, in a roundabout way, to Sloan's second marriage to a girl named Honzagool and to the birth of his child, Shamena, who was born in October 1981, back in New York. Today, Shamena is a United States Marine, and during the war was stationed at an air base in Kuwait.

But whatever you do, don't ask what happened to Shamena in the interim, because it's a wild story involving custody fights in the Bronx, kidnapping, Jerry Falwell's church in Virginia, and international intrigue. You could be in for very a long ride.