By Del Quentin Wilber, Lena H. Sun and Tim Craig
Washington Post Staff Writers
Saturday, September 26, 2009; B01
The arrest of a D.C. Council staffer Thursday on bribery charges has roots in a corruption investigation of the District's taxi industry that began more than a year ago, according to two law enforcement sources.
The sources said the probe included court-authorized wiretaps and the use of informants wearing recording devices. It is widespread and continuing and involves bribes in excess of $100,000, they said. The investigation became public Thursday when authorities arrested Ted G. Loza, 44, chief of staff to council member Jim Graham (D-Ward 1) on bribery charges.
Loza is accused of accepting $1,500 in bribes and free trips in exchange for helping to push legislation that would benefit some in the taxi industry. He is free on personal recognizance and declined to comment Friday.
The investigation, the sources said, began about 18 months ago when Abdulaziz Kamus, a well-known advocate for Ethiopian taxi drivers in the District, approached an official at the D.C. Taxicab Commission with a bribe. The sources requested anonymity because they are not authorized to discuss active cases.
The sources would not say why Kamus was trying to bribe the commission official. The commission closely regulates the taxi industry, and the official reported the bribe attempt to authorities.
Kamus most recently was executive director of the African Resource Center. Many of the city's 8,000 cabdrivers are of Ethiopian descent.
Reached on his cellphone yesterday, Kamus declined to comment. A spokesman for federal prosecutors in the District, who are overseeing the probe, also declined to comment.
At some point, the sources said, Kamus began working for federal agents. He has not been charged.
Authorities relied heavily on Kamus to build their case against Loza, according to court records and sources familiar with the investigation.
Kamus wore a recording device at two meetings with Loza in June and July at which he gave the staffer $1,500 in cash, according to the indictment. Kamus is not identified by name in court papers.
Prosecutors said Kamus had a "financial interest" in the taxicab industry and bribed Loza to push legislation limiting the number of taxi licenses issued by the District and to create an exception for hybrid vehicles. Loza helped him get Graham to introduce such legislation, the prosecutors alleged.
In court papers, prosecutors alleged that Kamus met with Graham on the night before the council member introduced the taxicab measure June 30.
Graham is not charged and has said he did nothing wrong. In a search warrant served on Loza's office Thursday, federal agents said they were looking for documents and correspondence and records of financial transactions involving th e staffer, Graham and Kamus.
On Friday, Graham released a log of his recent meetings with Kamus. The council member said he met with Kamus twice for lunch and once in his office between December and June to discuss taxicab legislation and other issues. A fourth meeting was scheduled for July but was canceled, according to the log.
"I have nothing to hide," Graham said. "I am cooperating 100 percent."
In 2004, Kamus and other Ethiopian community leaders organized a month-long junket for Graham to Ethiopia. Ethiopian Airlines supplied him with free airfare, and Sheraton Hotels and Resorts provided free accommodations in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia's capital, Kamus told The Washington Post at the time.
Loza, who then was Graham's multicultural and community relations director, accompanied his boss on the August trip. The law enforcement sources have said that Kamus paid for Loza's travel.
District law permits council members to accept trips as gifts. But all gifts valued at $100 or more must be reported if they come from a business or individual with business before the District government.
Graham never reported his Ethiopian trip on his 2005 financial disclosure form because, he said, neither Ethiopian Airlines nor Sheraton had business before the city at the time. The trip was not secret, however, and was the subject of a Post article.
"I was advised at the time I did not have to report it," Graham said.
The council member, whose ward includes the heart of Washington's Ethiopian community, said the trip was designed to increase his knowledge of his constituents' heritage.
"They were anxious to have me exposed to their homeland," Graham said. "If you know anything about the Ethiopian community, they are intensely proud of their history, their heritage. They wanted me to be aware of that."
In recent years, Graham has become a major booster of the Ethiopian community.
Last year, he inserted a $100,000 earmark into the fiscal 2009 budget for the Ethiopia Community Services and Development Council after its headquarters was destroyed by a fire.
Graham tried to give the organization, which does not appear to be directly connected to Kamus, a $50,000 grant this year, but the council eliminated all earmarks to help balance the budget.
Staff writers Tom Jackman and Nikita Stewart contributed to this report.