More than four years later, the significance of that call and the events that ensued remain the subject of speculation and investigation. Was Graham’s call the act of a whistleblower concerned about backroom corruption? Or was it part of a plan to derail the city from awarding the contract to Graham’s political foe?
Documents, depositions, statements and interviews provide new details about Graham’s role in the lottery contract award — a raw display of power politics that has bedeviled the District for five years and is now the subject of a federal criminal investigation.
On the council dais last week, Graham passionately denied any wrongdoing and said he acted only to report potential wrongdoing he saw.
“If somebody thinks I broke a law, if someone believes I had an illegal financial interest, let them stand up and say it,” Graham said. “But no more of this besmirching of what is an honorable record.”
A key figure in Graham’s account of the lottery contract dealings rejects the lawmaker’s version of events, calling his allegations “fabricated” and part of an attempt to “deflect from him and spread the pain.”
“I thought Jim was my friend,” said the political ally, Dotti Love Wade. “I just feel so awful that would occur, that a friend would do that.”
The allegations in question date to an April 2008 council hearing, when Graham questioned Eric W. Payne, then Gandhi’s contracting director, about the lottery procurement. Graham asked about Warren C. Williams Jr., whose wife was a principal member of the group awarded the contract.
The council still had to vote on the award, and Graham had misgivings. Williams and Williams’s father had ties to a nightclub in Graham’s ward that had been shuttered after a series of violent incidents. At the hearing, Graham questioned the younger Williams’s lottery expertise. According to Graham’s deposition, he also quietly suspected that Williams had ties to his political opponents.
After the hearing, Graham directed Payne to contact Wade, a former D.C. lottery executive and Advisory Neighborhood Commission member in Graham’s ward. Wade, Graham said, had additional information that would shed light on why the Williamses were unfit to have the lottery contract. Payne made the call.
What ensued is the subject of multiple — sometime conflicting — accounts, given in depositions and records filed in Payne’s ongoing lawsuit against Gandhi and the city for wrongful termination.
Graham as whistleblower
According to Graham, Wade came to his office shortly afterward and told him that representatives from the winning lottery team were waiting at the J.W. Marriott hotel across from his office in the John A. Wilson Building.