By Nikita Stewart and Tim Craig
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, September 24, 2009; 9:27 PM
Ted G. Loza, the chief of staff who was arrested on federal bribery charges Thursday, has spent the past decade building a reputation as the voice of the District's Latino community and as the right hand of Council member Jim Graham.
Now, he's known as "the $1,500 man," coined because he allegedly traded a promise to push legislation that would have favored the taxicab industry for $1,500 in payoffs.
In the John A. Wilson Building where he worked, there were snickers at the paltry amount of the alleged bribe. But fellow activists in Ward 1, which Graham represents and where a significant percentage of the city's Latino population resides, there was shock and disappointment.
Loza was known as a friendly community activist and director of the DC Latino PAC, but he also had public disagreements with some residents over Fiesta DC, the annual Latino festival. In recent years the event has drawn complaints from some residents in Mount Pleasant about the disruption it brings to the neighborhood. The festival is scheduled for this Sunday.
Loza's past money troubles, an assault charge and conflicts of interest with Fiesta DC have also dogged him. Fiesta DC, which is also the name of the organization that stages the festival, was named in the FBI search warrant.
The 44-year-old Ecuadoran immigrant, who earns $93,286 annually, began working for Graham as a multicultural and community relations director about nine years ago. He later became his chief of staff.
He is not a U.S. citizen, although Graham said he believed Loza was in process of applying for citizenship. In 1999, Loza pleaded guilty to simple assault in Fairfax County, according to court records. The details were not immediately available Thursday, and Graham said he was unaware of the charge.
Through the years, Graham has helped Loza financially. The council member and Loza's wife, Ligia X. Muñoz, jointly bought the couple's Columbia Road condominium in 2002. Loza and Munoz later bought Graham out. "When he first purchased the apartment, he needed my assistance," Graham said in an interview Thursday.
Graham also gave him a $1,140 loan from his constituent services fund, a pool of money council members raise through private donations to help residents in their communities.
In 2003, Loza was hit with an $8,123 federal tax lien. He paid off the government in 2007.
In all of cases in which he loaned Loza money, Graham said he was repaid.
"If there was anything in his closet, I didn't know," said Alton H. Poole, who works at the nonprofit Change Inc. in Columbia Heights. "He would greet you with a hug. It didn't matter who you were. . . . He did his job. He represented the council member. 'I'm here for Jim Graham.' He was Jim's [loyal] supporter."
Jim McKay, a Ward 1 advisory neighborhood commissioner who has worked with Loza on issues for at least seven years, was shocked at the allegations. "I always thought quite highly of him," he said.
Others were not as impressed.
Laurie Collins, former president of the Mount Pleasant Neighborhood Alliance, said Loza used race to divide the community, particularly with regard to Fiesta DC. "When Fiesta DC came to Mount Pleasant for the first time, he tried to disregard issues people had with parking and noise," she said. "There's nothing racist about parking and traffic."
At Columbia Heights Day last month, Loza, with three children in tow, passed out fliers promoting this weekend's Latino festival.
Muñoz is in charge of finance and administration at Fiesta DC. She did not return a call for comment.
Some residents said Thursday that Loza often used his influence as Graham's chief of staff to get permits and cut through other red tape on behalf of Fiesta DC, which also received a $200,000 earmark from the council in fiscal 2009.
Loza was removed from Fiesta's board in August after the FBI contacted some members of the organization as part of its investigation, said Elizabeth Shrader, Fiesta's secretary.