CHICAGO — A Chicago driver accused of sexually assaulting an Uber passenger was not authorized to drive for the ride-sharing company and used an account created in his wife's name to pick up customers, the company said Wednesday.
San Francisco-based Uber has come under scrutiny over its driver screening process, including from prosecutors in California who filed a lawsuit in December accusing Uber of exaggerating how comprehensive its background checks are.
Uber said Maxime Fohounhedo was driving under an account created in his wife's name in violation of Uber's rules prohibiting account sharing. Prosecutors say he used his own photo and phone number on the account.
Uber spokeswoman Jennifer Mullin couldn't immediately explain how that discrepancy could have been missed during the application process or despite what she said were Uber's "regular re-checks" of driver photos.
"We do our best to send drivers though our background check process, which far exceeds what's expected of taxis," she said. "But there is also a responsibility for the rider to make sure that when they get into an Uber that they're checking the license plate and they're checking the driver's face and making sure all that matches up."
In this case, though, such scrutiny by the rider might not have helped because Fohounhedo's own photo would have showed up on the user's smartphone, Mullin acknowledged.
The Uber app allows smartphone users to search for rides from regular taxis, limos and private individuals such as Fohounhedo who use their own vehicles in an arrangement known as ride-sharing.
Fohounhedo was arrested Sunday and has been charged with sexual assault in an alleged attack in November. A judge ordered him held Tuesday in lieu of $500,000 bail.
The 22-year-old victim told police she was attacked between 3 a.m. and 4 a.m. after being picked up from a bar.
Assistant State's Attorney Robert Mack said the woman was intoxicated and woke up on a couch at the driver's apartment with the man sexually assaulting her. Afterward, he told the victim, "I made you happy," Mack said.
Public defender Sandra Bennewitz told reporters Fohounhedo "has evidence that will support his claim that he did not do this and that whatever happened was consensual."
Fohounhedo would not have been eligible to drive for Uber in Chicago, where regulations require ride-share applicants to have held a license for at least a year. Fohounhedo has only held a temporary Illinois visitor driver's license since August, according to the Illinois Secretary of State's office. His wife, however, has had a regular Illinois license since 2009.
Uber says its background checks screen would-be drivers against county, federal and multi-state records going back seven years.
It also cites records showing several hundred physical violence complaints against traditional taxi drivers in recent years in Chicago.
A public records search by The Associated Press found no evidence of a prior criminal record for Fohounhedo.