Aide to D.C. Council's Graham Charged With Taking Bribes on Taxi Issues
Friday, September 25, 2009
The chief of staff to D.C. Council member Jim Graham was arrested on bribery charges Thursday, accused of taking trips and $1,500 in payoffs in exchange for pushing legislation that would reward some in the taxicab industry.
Ted G. Loza, 44, was taken into custody at his home on Columbia Road NW a little before 7 a.m., just hours before federal agents descended on his office at city hall to search records and computers.
Federal prosecutors allege that Loza accepted a "stream of things of value," including cash, the use of vehicles and trips, to help an unnamed informant with a financial interest in the taxicab industry. The trips included one to Ethiopia and free limo rides to airports and other destinations in the D.C. area, two law enforcement sources said.
Graham (D-Ward 1) introduced legislation that would have benefited the informant, authorities said. The council member is not charged in the indictment and denied any wrongdoing. "I have had no engagement whatsoever in any illegal or unethical behaviors," he said.
As part of the investigation, prosecutors said, the informant wore a hidden microphone. In July, after accepting a $500 bribe from the informant, Loza explained his motives for accepting the cash, prosecutors said. "You know I need it," Loza said, according to the transcript of the conversation in court papers. "That's why I take it, you know."
Loza pleaded not guilty to two counts of receiving a bribe by a public official during a brief appearance Thursday before U.S. District Judge Paul L. Friedman. Loza, a native of Ecuador who is not a U.S. citizen, was ordered to surrender his passport and was released on personal recognizance. He faces up to 30 years in prison for each count if convicted.
Loza's attorney, Pleasant S. Brodnax, said the Graham staffer did nothing wrong. "When all the facts come out and the entire context of this is understood, you will see that Mr. Loza is not guilty of bribery," Brodnax said.
Graham, first elected to the council in 1998 and known for his bow ties, said he was "deeply troubled" by the indictment and will cooperate fully with federal investigators. The council member said he has "never had a conversation with Teddy Loza where he came to me and said, Will 'you do this or will you do that?' "
And, Graham said, "nothing that has been alleged, whether it occurred or didn't occur, had any influence on any action I took in terms of the legislation on taxicabs, which I introduced."
Law enforcement sources said the probe is broad. Although the accusations against Loza are fairly recent, law enforcement sources said agents have been conducting a corruption investigation for at least a year. They also obtained wiretaps as part of the probe, said the sources, who, like other sources, spoke on condition of anonymity because the investigation is continuing.
On Thursday, federal agents spent most of the day searching Loza's office. But, according to the search warrant, they were not authorized to go through Graham's work space. They also seized files from the D.C. Council's mainframe computer in the basement of the John A. Wilson Building. Graham was leading a meeting of the Metro board when the raids began.
The warrant said agents were searching for documents tied to taxicab legislation, licenses, medallions, a taxi company called United Fleet Management and Fiesta D.C., a nonprofit organization that puts on an annual Hispanic festival in Mount Pleasant.