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Morgan Stanley banker pleads not guilty in cab driver assault

By Michelle Conlin

STAMFORD, Connecticut (Reuters) - A senior Morgan Stanley banker pleaded not guilty on Friday to hate crime, theft and assault charges stemming from an incident last December that police say escalated from a dispute over a $200-plus cab fare to a knife attack on the driver.

William Bryan Jennings, who had been co-head of North American fixed-income capital markets at the Wall Street bank until being put on leave following his arrest last month, entered "not guilty" pleas to each of three charges against him.

Jennings, wearing a blue blazer, white shirt and royal blue tie, entered the pleas in Stamford Superior Court. He now faces an April 12 trial date for charges of assault, larceny and "intimidation by bigotry or bias."

If found guilty on all counts, the charges collectively carry a maximum penalty of 11 years in jail and a fine of up to $11,000.

Jennings, a Ferrari-driving banker from Darien, a wealthy town on Connecticut's Long Island Sound shoreline, arrived at court in a black Toyota Tacoma pickup truck with his lawyer. No other family or friends were in attendance at the brief arraignment hearing, although more than a dozen reporters, photographers and videographers attended.

He remains free on a $9,500 cash bond, initially set after his arrest in Darien on February 29.

The charges stem from a late-night cab ride last December of about 45 miles Jennings took from Manhattan to his $2.3 million home at 39 Knollwood Lane.

Upon reaching the destination, the driver, Mohamed Helmy Ammar, and Jennings, who the driver said was intoxicated, argued about the fare. According to police, the two had agreed upon a fare of $204 at the outset of the ride, but when the driver requested payment, Jennings refused.

Jennings lawyer Eugene Riccio has disputed that version of events, saying the driver assessed a charge of nearly $300, which Jennings considered excessive.

With Jennings still in the car, the driver began driving around the city looking for a police officer to resolve the dispute, according to police. Riccio also contests that, saying the driver was not looking for police, but "speeding down the road, door open, disregarding traffic signals" and threatening to bring Jennings back to Manhattan unless he paid the fare.

Ammar, who lives in Queens, New York, and is an Egyptian-born U.S. citizen, told police that Jennings began threatening him and using racial slurs.

The banker then took out a pen knife and began stabbing at the driver through an open partition, police said. When the driver tried to close the partition, Jennings stabbed his hand.

The driver received immediate medical attention in Darien and later went to a hospital where the lacerations required six stitches, according to Darien police.

(Reporting by Michelle Conlin; additional reporting by Chris Francescani and Lauren LaCapra; writing By Dan Burns)

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