E-mails renew questions about Jim Graham’s role in lottery contract
By Editorial Board,
ON MAY 29, 2008, D.C. Council member Jim Graham (D-Ward 1) met with representatives of a District business who were pressing their bid for the city’s lottery contract. Allegations have emerged, most recently in a report by D.C. Inspector General Charles J. Willoughby, that the council member offered to drop his opposition to the group’s bid if one of its members would agree to withdraw from a separate real estate deal with Metro, on whose board Mr. Graham sat. As this page reported Wednesday, Mr. Graham flatly denied that he ever made such an offer.
Since then, we have obtained a series of e-mails that raise further questions. The e-mails were written in the days leading up to and following Mr. Graham’s meeting with representatives of W2I, a joint venture between a local group involving businessman Warren Williams Jr. and Greek gaming giant Intralot that was seeking the $38 million lottery contract. The e-mails show that the lottery seekers were concerned about what they viewed as an inappropriate, if not illegal, demand from Mr. Graham. The e-mails also show them addressing questions, allegedly raised by Mr. Graham in the May 29 meeting, about whether Mr. Williams’s family had made campaign contributions to Mr. Graham’s 2006 primary challenger and if they or a friend of Mr. Williams had been involved with a racially charged poster targeting Mr. Graham.
On May 30, 2008, the day after the meeting, Jim Link, a lobbyist working with Mr. Williams, wrote to thank Mr. Graham: “I wanted to let you know that I greatly enjoyed and appreciated meeting you yesterday and for the opportunity you gave the Williams? [sic] to engage with you in reconciliation. I found the meeting to be productive and I look forward to discussing next steps.”
On June 2, Mr. Graham wrote back: “Thanks. Do you think they will do anything?” Mr. Link responded, “Yes. Wheels are in motion. Everyone took your concerns seriously. I would like to discuss . . . at a time convenient for you.”
That same day saw a flurry of correspondence among the Williams group about what to do. At 5:46 p.m., Mr. Williams wrote that he could not pull out of the Metro project because of legal obligations to his partners. But he suggested showing a willingness to discuss it with Mr. Graham “to prove to him that I’m ‘onboard’ and ‘non-threatening’ I would give him the [Metro] project.”At 6:43 p.m., Mr. Link responded that they should be upfront about not being able to abandon the Metro project but wondered, “Is there a possibility that this project could be expanded to include someone of his liking?” At 7:05 p.m., Mr. Williams reported preliminary talks with another developer “he wants to see win the site.”
This apparently alarmed the group’s attorney, A. Scott Bolden, who fired off an e-mail at 8:26 p.m. “This is complete bs and we are getting very close to corruption, bid rigging and other inappropriate conduct,” Mr. Bolden wrote.
Subsequent days saw the circulation of drafts of a response to Mr. Graham; now included in the e-mail traffic are Intralot officials. “Seriously I do not like the last line it empowers Graham too much it suggest that whatever we discussed we realized the subject matter may be dirty and thus we became a part of it in that we considered it!” wrote Intralot vice president Byron Boothe on June 11.
That same day, Mr. Link wrote to Mr. Graham: “As for Metro, there are a number of factors that make it impossible for us to even consider accommodating your request.” He assured Mr. Graham that neither Mr. Williams nor his friend Sinclair Skinner was involved with the poster and that neither Mr. Williams nor any relative “ever made a contribution to the campaign of Chad Williams, who challenged your seat.”
Two hours later Mr. Graham wrote back: “Sinclair was observed putting the posters up. I would rather not continue this on email.. . . The rejection of your application at Metro (which has not been approved) is necessitated not by any of this but by other factors relating to the application.”
Asked to respond to these disclosures, Mr. Graham e-mailed us Thursday: “My reaction is the same. I have no recollection of anything like this occurring. I do recall a wide ranging conversation dealing most particularly with the problems associated with Warren Williams and Club U [a go-go club on U Street NW owned by Mr. Williams’s family] and the various abuses of the government lease as well as club-related violence issues.” He also pointed out that the inspector general, to whom he says he was precluded from speaking because of pending litigation, said he found no evidence of illegality in Mr. Graham’s involvement.
W2I did not get the lottery contract. Intralot eventually did win the bidding, taking on a different local partner.