June 29, 2012

Did D.C. Council member Jim Graham (D-Ward 1) tell officials of the firm W2I, which had been awarded a multiyear D.C. lottery contract, that he would drop his opposition to the contract award if one of the company’s principals withdrew from a separate land deal involving the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (WMATA), on whose board Graham also sat?

Recently obtained e-mails suggest that four of the people present at the 2008 meeting in Graham’s office — W2I executives Warren C. Williams and Alaka Williams, W2I lobbyist James Link, and public relations officer Crystal Wright — believe Graham made such an improper offer.

Graham maintains that he has done nothing wrong: “zero allegation of any crime” and “no suggestion of any financial gain by me,” he wrote in a Feb. 24 op-ed on this page. There was “[n]o evidence of wrongdoing by Graham, the D.C. inspector general concluded last month in a lengthy review of my involvement with the lottery contract process.”

Actually, the inspector general said no such thing. Only one paragraph of Charles Willoughby’s 19-page report was devoted to Graham. Willoughby concluded that he “did not find sufficient evidence to support or conclude that the councilmember had acted improperly.”

E-mail excerpts paint a different picture.

Alerted that a reporter had learned about the May 29, 2008, meeting with Graham, A. Scott Bolden, lawyer for Warren Williams, e-mailed the four participants on June 7 with draft language for an e-mail that he proposed Wright send to Graham. It reads in part: “Jim, wanted to let you know and give you the heads up that Bill Meyers [sic] of the dc examiner contacted me on Friday afternoon and recounted [our] entire conversation from our meeting with me, Jim [Link], you and your staff and the Williams. And while I know this meeting was off the record, he knew quite a bit and was calling for a confirmation. Despite our legal and general concerns regarding your request that the Williams’ withdraw from the wmata development contract — contracts they won both fair and square and other contract information, in exchange for your support of the lottery contract, please know that no one from our team contacted the media as it would not be in our interest or your interests to publicize your unusual request.”

The next afternoon, Wright replied to Bolden:

“Neither Jim [Link] or I are . . . comfortable with emailing Graham. I spoke with the lawyer, who counsels me on business matters and she strongly advises us against putting anything in writing, acknowledging this meeting and its contents, as it would have far reaching implications, even though we did nothing wrong.”

Bolden responded to Wright that night: “We want to alert Graham to avoid being blamed for the leak . . . You also want to block Graham from blaming us for the proposed deal — the email is our protection against that possibility . . . the participants in the meeting are all witnesses to Graham’s crap. We have not done anything wrong.”

Earlier, on June 2, Warren Williams had e-mailed Wright with copies to Alaka Williams, Link and Bolden: “We should discuss with the [councilmember], the fact that, even though I don’t like [to have to] prove to him that I’m ‘onboard’ and ‘non-threatening’ I would give him the wmata project. The legal realities are that I can’t do that. Banneker Ventures own[s] 35% of the rights to develop the sites. Two other companies have much more to lose. If we tried to drop out they would sue us. We’ve got six figures of expenses as well as a six-figure deposit being held by wmata.”

Later that night, Link e-mailed Warren Williams with copies to the others: “I think we should be upfront with Graham about why this piece of his request cannot be accommodated. Its pretty clear that you are unable for very strict legal reasons to unilaterally make that decision. Is there a possibility that this project could be expanded to include someone of his liking?”

Williams replied: “I think being honest with Graham is the right move as well. We have begun some preliminary talks with LaKritz, the developer he wants to see win the site. If Graham wants to cut the deal with LaKritz for a ‘better project’ we could do that. But I just can’t give the project to anyone . . . .

Later in the message, referring to Graham’s alleged complaint that they had supported campaigns of his opponents, Williams wrote that Graham “has accepted thousands of dollars that were bundled and hand delivered to him from [Club U] and various entities that were in my control. Thousands. So when he ask was I funding his enemies, the answer is no they funded you Mr. Graham.”

The seriousness of the situation was not lost on Bolden. Weeks later, on July 23, 2008, Bolden e-mailed Wright: “Crystal, as a follow up to our discussion this morning, this will confirm that you are reluctant to and will not turn over your notes to me from the meeting with Jim Graham and the W2 tech team on or about May 29th, 2008 in his DC Council office. Nor will you allow me to review them for responsiveness. . . . Notwithstanding, please preserve them in anticipation of the [inspector general’s] possible formal request or future IG subpoena for the same.”

Williams and Bolden confirmed the contents of the e-mails. Wright declined to comment when I spoke to her this week. Link did not return my calls. Graham will not speak with me by phone. He was contacted Friday for comment on the e-mails, but no response was received.

Thank goodness the U.S. attorney is on this case.

kingc@washpost.com