June 8, 2011

JIM GRAHAM, D.C. Council member for Ward 1, believes he should be commended for rejecting a cash-stuffed envelope offered to him by a top aide on behalf of a mysterious business group. We’d suggest holding off before awarding him a medal.

Obviously Mr. Graham did the right thing in refusing this improper offer of money. But turning down a bribe really should be the minimum ethical standard of someone elected with the public’s trust. The question is, why did he not report the offer to law enforcement — or take any action against the aide who sought to act as a go-between?

The revelation that Mr. Graham was offered, and rejected, $2,600 came during this week’s sentencing hearing in U.S. District Court of Ted G. Loza, Mr. Graham’s former chief of staff. Mr. Loza has pleaded guilty to accepting illegal gratuities and making a false statement in what the U.S. Attorney’s Office called a far-flung scheme to dominate by corrupt means the D.C. taxicab industry.

Mr. Graham told us that Mr. Loza had first told him a group of businessmen interested in investing in Ward 1, including in possible cab ventures, wanted him to meet with them in Miami. Mr. Graham said he rejected the suggestion out of hand. Some months later, in July 2009, Mr. Loza came to him with an envelope containing $2,600. He said he was told the money was a refund of a first-class ticket to Miami and that the business interests wanted him to have it. In actuality, it was all part of an FBI sting.

Mr. Graham said he became angry, returned the money to the envelope, taped it shut with his initials and instructed Mr. Loza to return it. “I wanted nothing to do with it,” he said. So if he knew it was wrong, why didn’t he — as specified by D.C. Council rules (never mind simple common sense) — immediately alert the proper authorities? And what does it say about his judgment that he kept in his employ someone who would be a willing conduit for a bribe? Mr. Graham acknowledged that “in hindsight” he should have notified the police and that it does not reflect well on him that Mr. Loza remained a confidant until his arrest in September 2009.

Considering the way things are going at the John A. Wilson Building — with an administration under the cloud of allegations from former mayoral candidate Sulaimon Brown and council member Harry Thomas accused of taking hundreds of thousands of public dollars for personal use — maybe we should be happy that Mr. Graham was honest enough not to keep that envelope. But that strikes us as a pretty low standard.