Chinatown businessman pleads not guilty in alleged taxicab-licensing bribery scheme

A Chinatown businessman and his son pleaded not guilty Monday to charges of conspiring to bribe District officials in an alleged taxicab licensing scheme.

Anthony C.Y. Cheng Sr. , a restaurateur and well-known fundraiser for local politicians, and his son, Anthony R. Cheng Jr., were indicted by a federal grand jury last month for allegedly paying off two public officials to try to get around a citywide moratorium on new licenses to operate taxicab companies.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Lionel Andre said that the government had handed over to the Chengs’ attorneys numerous audio and video recordings from the undercover operation, which included an FBI agent posing as a city official, as well as the former head of the D.C. Taxicab Commission.

Leon Swain Jr., who is not identified by name in court papers, was head of the commission at the time of the alleged scheme and is likely to be the government’s key witness at trial, Andre said.

The Chengs did not comment as they left the courtroom Monday. The elder Cheng has long held fundraisers for D.C. Council members and mayors at his namesake Chinatown restaurant on H Street NW, but his attorney, Kenneth Robinson, said his activity was not illegal.

The defense team has already reviewed some of the recordings, and Robinson suggested that the conversations do not clearly implicate his client.

“We feel good about it,” he told reporters after the hearing in U.S. District Court. “You should never have ambiguity in a sting.”

The indictment does not specifically involve any elected officials. But Robinson said that investigators had hoped that the elder Cheng would cooperate and implicate elected officials. The names of those officials, he said, are mentioned in the recordings, which have not been made public.

U.S. District Judge Ellen Segal Huvelle scheduled jury selection for Dec. 4 for a trial that attorneys estimated would last three weeks.

Ann covers legal affairs in the District and Maryland for the Washington Post. Ann previously covered state government and politics in California, New Hampshire and Maryland. She joined the Post in 2005.

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