Richard Chow apparent his adolescent brother’s auto alone alfresco Carl Schurz Park, a 15-acre Manhattan haven overlooking the East River. He began to panic.
For months, he had watched his brother and adolescent cabdriver, Kenny, attack beneath astronomic debt. Kenny had developed abroad and despondent. Now he had disappeared.
Richard searched the auto and afresh the park, scouring about the gardens, the playgrounds and a brownish bronze of Peter Pan. Finally, he alleged the police.
An bread-and-butter crisis has swept over New York City’s auto industry, overextension banking ruin and claimed despair, abnormally for owners of medallions, the permits that let bodies accomplish cabs. Added than 4,000 drivers acclimated their activity accumulation to buy medallions. Richard and Kenny were amid them.
For added than a decade, as The New York Times has appear this year, auto industry leaders artificially aggrandized brand prices and channeled purchasers into arrant loans that they could not afford. The brand balloon began to collapse in backward 2014. Prices plummeted. But the drivers remained ashore with massive loans.
Thousands of owners, about all built-in alfresco the United States, accept absent all of their savings. Added than 950 accept filed for bankruptcy. And several accept died by suicide.
Richard, afresh 59, and Kenny, 56, immigrants from Myanmar, had survived difficult times in three countries, consistently active in the aforementioned burghal and animate in the aforementioned business. In New York, Richard had gotten Kenny into the auto industry and abiding him to buy a medallion, a move they believed would defended their futures.
Richard had looked afterwards Kenny their absolute lives. His aboriginal anamnesis was of a soccer bold back his brother got into an altercation and he intervened to assure him from accepting baffled up.
Myanmar was afresh alleged Burma, and its capital, area they grew up, was alleged Rangoon. Richard was Yu Koon Chow; Kenny was Yu Mein Chow. Their ancestors was from China.
The ancestors — Richard, Kenny, their parents, their grandparents and their eight added ancestors — lived in one ground-floor allowance with no active water. They slept on plywood on the floor. Sometimes they did not eat for days.
The ancestors confused to Taiwan in 1980. The brothers got jobs at the aforementioned factory, dyeing absolute for sweaters. They adored best of their earnings, but occasionally they splurged on a cruise to the movies to see the latest American activity film.
Eventually, they pursued their own American adventure. Afterwards an beforehand sister affiliated a Taiwanese American, they got blooming cards.
“We capital to go to United States because we heard it was the best place,” addition brother, Jojo, said in an interview. “We heard about it in movies, in books. We dreamed of activity there.”
One night in backward September 1987, several of the ancestors boarded the aftermost flight of the day from Taipei to New York. Richard and Kenny sat abutting to anniversary other.
‘I’m the beforehand brother.’
When the Chows landed at Kennedy Airport, they did not allege any English.
At first, the ancestors lived with their mother in a two-bedroom accommodation in Chinatown. Soon, they artificial their own paths. Jojo confused to California. A sister confused to Philadelphia.
But for years, Kenny followed Richard.
They began as restaurant deliverymen, angry the rain and snow to bear Chinese food. Afresh they abutting the adornment business, as design setters.
In 1996, Richard and his new wife, whom he had met in Taiwan, had their aboriginal child, a girl. Three months later, Kenny and his new wife, whom he had met at his adornment job, had their aboriginal child, additionally a girl.
In 2000, Richard bought a baby abode in Staten Island. Five months later, Kenny bought a baby abode in Fresh Meadows, Queens.
“I’m the beforehand brother,” Richard said in an interview. “He attractive at me. It’s Chinese tradition. The beforehand brother takes affliction of adolescent brother.”
The beforehand brother entered the auto industry first, too. He started active for a agile in 2005, afterwards a acquaintance appropriate it. He admired the job, but he hated animate afore aurora for his shift. So the abutting year, back the burghal awash medallions at auctions, he bid.
Richard said he planned to bid about $360,000 until he met with Pearland Brokerage, run by Neil Greenbaum, an affecting industry leader. He said a brand agent with Pearland said the agile buyer Gene Freidman afresh had paid $477,000. Richard bid $410,000. He won.
To pay, Richard agreed to a accepted costs plan. He adopted $75,000 from ancestors for fees and a bottomward payment, and he active a $358,200 accommodation from Pearland. The accord appropriate him to accord aural four years. He did not accept a lawyer, annal show.
Mr. Greenbaum and Pearland did not acknowledge to requests for comment.
A few years later, back Kenny’s aggregation confused across and laid him off, Richard recommended the cab business. Kenny became a disciplinarian and, in a few months, started allurement about affairs a medallion.
“I took him to Pearland,” Richard said.
By then, brand prices were skyrocketing. Large agile owners like Mr. Freidman were carefully overpaying for medallions to access the amount of their portfolios. Lenders were arising adventuresome loans, and as in the apartment bubble, the accessible money aggrandized prices more.
The adolescent brother could not defended a accepted loan. But he afterwards told accompany that a agent helped him to advantage the disinterestedness in his abode for a bottomward acquittal to accomplish it work.
Kenny bought his brand at a clandestine auction on Aug. 5, 2011. It was alone a few years afterwards his brother’s purchase. But including the taxes and fees, it amount added than $750,000.
‘He accomplished me everything.’
In the beginning, the Chow brothers admired actuality brand owners. They set their own hours, and they fabricated a abiding bacon for the aboriginal time in their lives.
Richard affirmed with added owner-drivers over break in Chinatown, area drivers anchored and ate banquet together. He took on a benevolent role, mentoring drivers from China and its adjoining countries.
Kenny did not associate as much, but he acceptable respect. He fabricated the disciplinarian Safety Honor Roll three years in a row. In 2015, back Augustine Tang, afresh a concrete therapist aide, accidentally affiliated a medallion, Kenny helped him. “He accomplished me everything,” Mr. Tang said in an interview.
As brand prices soared, Richard did as abounding others did — he acclimated the amount to refinance and booty out added money.
After his accommodation hit the four-year mark, back he was declared to accord everything, the nonprofit Melrose Acclaim Abutment alleged and offered to extend his accommodation and accommodate him an added $150,000. He agreed. He said he acclimated the money to accord the ancestors who had covered his bottomward payment. Melrose issued the analysis in beneath than an hour, he added.
When brand prices anesthetized $1 million, the wives implored the brothers to sell.
“I’m not scared,” Kenny said, his brother recalled. “Are you scared?”
“No,” Richard said. “I assurance the city.”
Soon after, the brand balloon burst.
The brothers formed seven canicule a week, and they fabricated alone a little added than they bare for their account accommodation payments. Richard’s was $3,500; Kenny’s was added than $4,000.
The algebraic got tougher as ride-hailing casework such as Uber and Lyft grew in popularity, abbreviation their riders and revenues.
Richard said he and Kenny asked for charity on their accommodation payments and were rebuffed. Instead, annal show, Melrose confused to bind its anchor on the Chows.
Kenny’s aboriginal loans listed him as the sole borrower, and his brand as the alone collateral. But in 2016, Melrose added Kenny’s wife as a co-debtor and broadcast the accessory to accommodate aggregate they endemic or would anytime own. Kenny signed, although it is cryptic if he accepted the change. He did not accept a lawyer.
Melrose, beneath accountability from its regulator, the National Acclaim Abutment Administration, additionally threatened to sue abounding brand owners in 2017.
A analysis by the burghal in acknowledgment to The Times’s alternation begin that Melrose was one of the industry’s atomic affectionate lenders. The National Acclaim Abutment Administration eventually bankrupt it, citation alarming and ailing practices.
A agent for the acclaim abutment bureau said he could not animadversion on the Chows.
In the abatement of 2017, the ancestors accustomed addition blow. Doctors diagnosed Kenny’s wife with Stage 4 colon cancer.
Kenny connected active and advantageous off his brand loans, which still totaled $600,000. But he fell far abaft on his mortgage and added expenses. He additionally could no best advice pay his daughter’s academy tuition, and she absitively to bead out to advice the family, a accommodation that deepened Kenny’s agony.
“He got depressed,” said Wain Chin, an owner-driver and ancestors friend. “He couldn’t sleep. He couldn’t work. He had to go to the hospital all the time. He had consistently been quiet, but he got alike quieter.”
Privately, Richard hatched a plan to save his brother. He had heard that Melrose was accommodating to absolve loans if borrowers absent their medallions and paid about $100,000. So he contacted his ancestors and abiding them to scrape calm the money. Then, during Chinese New Year, in February 2018, he arrive Kenny to his house.
With the advice of Jojo, who was visiting from California for the holiday, Richard apprenticed Kenny to booty the money. But he refused. He did not appetite to accountability his family.
Instead, annal show, Kenny refinanced his accommodation again, demography out added money and application it to accomplish his account payments. It was a atrocious move that active him added in debt.
Kenny additionally alleged two defalcation lawyers. They offered to help, but both warned he would lose his home if he filed for bankruptcy.
In aboriginal May 2018, Kenny accustomed to use his acclaim agenda to pay a $550 anniversary brand burghal fee. The online arrangement alone the payment, Richard said, because the agenda was maxed out. (Kenny managed to accomplish the acquittal on May 8; a agent for the burghal said it had no almanac of the bootless attempt.)
The aftermost time Richard saw his brother was at a Kennedy Airport lot area cabdrivers band up for advantageous fares. It was the aforementioned abode they had landed three decades earlier. Kenny looked beat and skinny. Richard gave him a set of Buddhist brainwork chaplet to calm his mind.
On the night that Kenny disappeared, May 11, 2018, Richard clung to hope. He knew active could be exhausting, so he anticipation his brother had lain bottomward and collapsed into a abysmal slumber. Or maybe he went on a brainwork retreat, or on a coursing for added money.
After a week, Richard led a account appointment to advance the case. He broadcast posters: “MISSING: 5 anxiety 6 inches tall. Weight about 140 lbs. Aftermost apparent cutting white T-shirt and biscuit pants.”
The abutting day, a television anchorman agape on Kenny’s aperture and asked his wife if she anticipation he was alive. “I accept no idea,” she said through tears. “I’m actual scared.”
On May 23, addition spotted a anatomy in the East River abreast the Brooklyn Bridge, six afar south of the esplanade area Kenny’s cab had been abandoned. It took the authorities three canicule to affirm the anatomy was Kenny’s, application dental records.
At a vigil, Richard could almost speak. “I admired my brother,” he said as he wept. “He was actual hard-working. He admired his family. That’s all I appetite to say.”
Because of the change advertisement Kenny’s wife as a co-debtor, she affiliated his accommodation back he died. But it did not affliction her for long. She died a few months afterwards her husband. Their daughter, who did not get entrapped in the loan, has alternate to college. She is now 23.
It is absurd to apperceive why anyone takes his or her own life. But accompany accept Kenny was afflicted by his loans and by antagonism from ride-hailing. They do not anticipate it was a accompaniment that he larboard his cab two blocks from Gracie Mansion, the acceptable home of the mayor, in a burghal that had abandoned bad lending practices and accustomed Uber and Lyft to encroach.
A backer for Ambassador Bill de Blasio acclaimed he did not booty appointment until 2014. “One of our aboriginal accomplishments was awkward brand sales, and we were one of the aboriginal and best agog choir for annoyance the accelerated advance of corporations like Uber,” she said.
Bill Heinzen, who has been the acting arch of the city’s Auto and Limousine Commission back March, appear a account that mentioned that his own brother had died by suicide. “The afterlife of Kenny Chow and added drivers acutely afflicted us,” Mr. Heinzen said.
In the canicule afterwards Kenny’s death, auto industry leaders bedeviled on the brothers’ story. One accumulation broke Richard to banderole an accident for reporters alleged “How Abounding Added Accept to Die?” Addition fabricated him the articulation of a television ad that asked the New York Burghal Board to cap Uber and Lyft. (The board accustomed the cap in August 2018.) Alike afterwards added drivers died, the Chows connected to serve as the attribute of the devastation.
Richard has abounding hearings on the crisis in Manhattan, Albany, N.Y., and Washington, anniversary one a aching reminder. He usually sits in the advanced row. He generally cries.
“He is a active warrior for our movement,” said Bhairavi Desai of the New York Auto Workers Alliance, which represents cabdrivers. “He has angry his affliction into armor to assure adolescent drivers.”
In a alternation of interviews this year, Richard said he believed that he owed it to Kenny to allotment their adventure to try to anticipate added suicides.
But he additionally said he had amorphous activity the weight of accustomed the industry’s aggregate sorrow. He said he had absitively to stop answering calls from reporters. He added that his publicity had created astriction with accompany and angered some of his siblings.
During one conversation, at a auto angle in Chinatown, Richard said he sometimes wondered whether the afterlife was his fault. He had encouraged his brother to accompany the auto industry, to buy a medallion, to assurance the loans.
He additionally wondered if he could accept done added back Kenny started acceptable sad. Should he accept lent him money? Or affected him to go to therapy? Or appear him to the city?
“I didn’t accept any acquaintance with the depression,” he said. “I didn’t apperceive what to do.”
Today, Richard is still disturbing to pay his own loan. He owes $402,000, and he said it is adamantine to accomplish the $2,766 account payments. He cannot abutment his babe and his son, 19, who are both in school.
If admiral do not bond out brand owners, as they are considering, he affairs to acknowledge bankruptcy.
For now, Richard works seven canicule a week, about from 10 a.m. until midnight.
Every day, to get to work, he takes the Brooklyn Bridge, active over the river area his adolescent brother took his aftermost breath.
If you are accepting thoughts of suicide, alarm the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 (TALK).
Susan C. Beachy contributed research.
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