March 2, 2012

In his op-ed piece in The Post last Sunday, D.C. Council member Jim Graham (D-Ward 1) referred to a “four-year-old conversation” he had “with a group bidding to become the local and majority partner in the D.C. Lottery contract.” Graham wrote that he “cannot recall every detail of the meeting.”

Two of those present at the May 29, 2008, meeting in Graham’s D.C. Council office apparently have better powers of recall.

On Feb. 22, I interviewed Warren Williams in the presence of his lawyer, A. Scott Bolden. Williams is co-owner of W2 Tech, a joint venture partner with Intralot, a major international lottery vendor. W2 Tech and Intralot formed W2I, which submitted a bid on the D.C. Lottery contract. In January 2008, W2I was awarded the contract by the office of the city’s chief financial officer.

On Monday, I spoke with a second participant in the 2008 meeting. This individual would speak only on background, but this person’s identity has been disclosed to Post editors.

Both said that James Link, a lobbyist retained by W2I, arranged the meeting. Aware that Graham was known to be opposed to Williams’s participation in the lottery contract, Link reportedly sought the meeting to address any concerns from Graham about W2I’s capability to carry out the contract.

According to both participants, Graham spent the first 30-plus minutes of the meeting complaining about activities of Williams and his father in the operation of a U Street NW club inside city-leased space. The club had closed in 2005 after a violent altercation. Graham also, both said, took Williams to task for allegedly supporting one of his campaign rivals — a claim Williams denies.

Williams said that Graham produced a stack of papers that he claimed detailed the adverse effects of Williams’s business activities in the District.

Both participants said that Graham then switched gears and said directly to Williams, “You’ve been winning too much.”

The participants took that as a reference to Banneker Ventures, a general contracting and construction management firm that had landed lucrative city projects. At the time, Williams was a partner in Banneker.

Graham then said to Williams, both sources told me, “You recently won an award at a Metro site.” The meeting participants said this was a reference to Banneker Ventures having won a competition to develop a site owned by the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority.

In 2008, Graham was the District’s representative on the Metro board; on the D.C. Council, he represented the ward where the Florida Avenue Metro project would be located.

Williams told me that he responded to Graham, “Yes, Omar did well,” a reference to Banneker Ventures’ co-owner Omar A. Karim, who put together the winning Metro bid.

Williams said that Graham told him: “Well, you’ve got to give me something in order for me to support you on the lottery, and the something I’m looking for is the WMATA project.”

Both participants told me they believed Graham was asking Banneker to withdraw from the Metro project so another bidder could win.

Not wanting to offend Graham on the spot but recognizing the awkwardness of the situation, the sources said they ended the conversation with a promise to get back to Graham.

Williams told me that both participants spoke immediately afterward with attorney Bolden about the discussion.

Williams said that he and two others at the meeting were astonished by Graham’s actions.

Williams and Bolden cited an e-mail Graham sent to Link after the meeting in which Graham asked, “Do you think they will do anything?” That question, they said, refers to Graham’s request that Banneker withdraw from the WMATA bid.

Williams said he learned through Karim that Graham wanted LaKritz/Adler, a local real estate investment company, involved in the Florida Avenue Metro project.

This week I interviewed Karim about his understanding of Graham’s role in the Florida Avenue Metro project. Karim told me that in 2008 he met with Graham at the council member’s favorite French restaurant, where, he said, Graham told him Banneker Ventures needed to add LaKritz/Adler to the Florida Avenue Metro project. Karim said he phoned LaKritz/Adler managing partner Joshua Adler, per Graham’s instructions, and sent a proposal, but the two sides could not agree on terms.

My phone call to Adler was not returned.

Graham declined to speak with me directly. He requested that I submit questions in writing, and I e-mailed him about statements by Williams and Karim regarding Banneker Ventures, the D.C. Lottery contract and the Florida Avenue Metro project. Graham copied me on an e-mail to Post editors, saying that my questions were nothing new.

Graham wrote in his op-ed that he questioned W2I’s lottery bid because he challenged the group’s qualifications and, referring to Williams, the “irresponsible actions of one of the group’s principals.” Graham also cited the Metro board chair’s statement that the board dropped Banneker Ventures from the Metro project “based upon a dramatic change in the developer’s proposed price and other factors adverse to WMATA’s business interest.”

It should be noted that the D.C. Council rejected the W2I lottery contract award in December 2008.

kingc@washpost.com