The case had captivated the city after pictures of the adorable baby girl -- who police now say was born to a 14-year-old girl and a man nearly twice her age -- were published in newspapers and broadcast on TV.
The cabbie had told investigators his fare was a nervous-looking man who had gotten in carrying the baby and a diaper bag, then disappeared after asking the driver to pull over so he could make a phone call.
Sailema, 44, provided enough detail that police released a sketch of the suspect. He repeated his tale to reporters at a news conference on Friday.
Police didn't immediately say what broke the case open, but a family friend, Stuart Caban, said he took the teenage mother to police Friday evening after finding her walking in the Bronx, carrying a newspaper with her daughter's picture and sobbing.
"She was depressed, scared, crying. She loved her daughter. She wanted to be with her," said Caban, a 23-year-old bail bondsman.
The girl told her she hadn't wanted to leave the baby but ran away after a violent fight with the father, Caban said.
A superintendent at the Bronx apartment building where the couple lived, Saul Navarro, 43, said the baby's father had been distraught in recent days, complaining that the mother had run off and that he couldn't care for the child alone. Navarro said that he helped the family find a baby sitter, but that she was able to care for the child for only a few days.
Sailema became involved because he was dating the father's 21-year-old sister, police said. Investigators believe she persuaded the cabdriver to help her family abandon the baby.
Sailema was charged Saturday with filing a false report, and he and his girlfriend were charged with criminal faciliation. Fernando Mateo, a spokesman for the New York State Federation of Taxi Drivers, said the group was trying to arrange for a lawyer for Sailema.
The baby has been placed in a foster home.
The baby's mother will probably not face charges because of her age, said police spokesman Paul Browne. Investigators were still hunting for the child's 27-year-old father late Saturday.
The driver federation's Mateo, who had championed Sailema as a hero earlier in the week, said he felt betrayed but wouldn't condemn the cabbie.
"I am looking at a desperate man who was trying to help a desperate family," Mateo said.