Swain, a lifelong city resident who has connections in the D.C. political community and has weighed runs for the D.C. Council, was on his second tour on the taxi commission.
Within days of taking office in 2007 and having heard rumors about corruption in the cab industry, he told a group of taxi drivers: “I don’t want your money; I don’t want your liquor; and I don’t want women. There is nothing you have that I want.” For a brief moment, Swain wondered if Syume’s ham-handed approach bore the hallmarks of an FBI sting.
This account of Swain’s involvement in the taxi cab case was built on interviews with Swain, current and former federal authorities and lawyers familiar with the case, and a review of court records.
That night, Swain decided to report Syume to an adviser to then-Mayor Adrian M. Fenty (D), who had tapped him to be chairman of the commission. Then Swain spoke with D.C. Police Chief Cathy L. Lanier, who told him that she would send detectives to speak with him.
By Tuesday, the taxi commissioner was meeting with Syume in his Southeast office, which two D.C. police detectives had wired with recording devices before stationing themselves in a cramped adjoining bathroom.
Syume wasted little time in handing Swain an envelope stuffed with $14,000 in cash, telling him that he wanted to purchase licenses to operate cab companies. The next day, he gave Swain $8,000, explaining that he wanted to expedite the licensing process. He also said he thought the certificates would become increasingly valuable if the city limited the number of cab companies as expected.
Over the next two years, in exchange for licenses he didn’t realize were fictitious, Syume passed the taxi commissioner more than $200,000 in cash in folded newspapers, envelopes, shopping bags and even a pillow case — so much money, Swain says, that he remembers the payoffs as “just a blur.”
Not long after the first bribe, the FBI took the lead. And it soon became clear to agents and federal prosecutors that Swain seemed to relish his role, perhaps revisiting glory days on the police force. He strapped a pistol to his hip (as a former D.C. police officer he is allowed to carry one). And drawing on his lengthy experience as a vice officer, he provided a stream of advice about techniques, didn’t always take instructions well and criticized agents when he thought they made mistakes. Once, he chastised an agent for repeatedly driving through his meeting place in a conspicuous Ford Crown Victoria.