Graham's Chief of Staff Enjoyed Solid Reputation in Latino Community
Monday, September 28, 2009
A little more than 72 hours after the chief of staff to D.C. Council member Jim Graham was arrested on federal bribery charges, Graham joined thousands who converged Sunday on Mount Pleasant to attend a festival dedicated to Latino culture that the staffer, Ted G. Loza, once helped organize.
On a warm, bright day, a dozen people who attended Fiesta DC said in interviews that they were surprised and disappointed by the arrest of Loza, who is accused of pocketing $1,500 in bribe money and taking free overseas trips in exchange for pushing legislation that would benefit some in the taxicab industry.
Loza, 44, has spent the past decade building a reputation as a strong voice for the District's Latino community, which is heavily concentrated in such neighborhoods as Mount Pleasant, Columbia Heights and Adams Morgan, all or parts of which are in Graham's Ward 1.
In recent years, it seemed that Loza never missed a ribbon-cutting, community meeting or festival, said Gabriela Mossi, executive director of the Mount Pleasant Business Association.
Loza responded promptly, she said, to phone calls and e-mails about crime, taxes and trash collection. Mossi, who was born in the District and raised in Honduras, said Loza's arrest was a blow to many.
"Ted was everywhere," said Mossi as she staffed a booth for the business association. "It hurts all of us if there are allegations against a member of the community who is in a position of influence. Most people I've talked to have expressed dismay. If the allegations are true, it's very unfortunate."
Loza, whose annual salary is $93,286, began working for Graham (D) as a multicultural and community relations director about nine years ago. Loza later became Graham's chief of staff.
Graham attended Sunday's festival and marched at the head of its parade. He said it was important for him to attend and talk to constituents in light of the allegations against Loza. Graham, first elected to the council in 1998, reiterated previous statements that he has done nothing wrong.
On Thursday, federal agents executed a search warrant at Loza's work space; the warrant did not authorize investigators to search Graham's work space.
"I've never been charged with anything. I've done nothing wrong," Graham said as Guapo, his West Highland terrier, sat nearby in the shade of Graham's festival booth.
Graham said the constituents he has encountered since Loza's arrest have been "positive." The council member added, however, "I'm upset and disappointed."
In interviews with festival-goers, it was clear that Graham has built a reservoir of goodwill and trust among residents of his ward.
Amanda Abrams, 38, said she attended a community meeting a few weeks ago at the library in Mount Pleasant to discuss renovations. Graham was able to mediate between two contentious sides, she said.
If he were to be accused of wrongdoing, Abrams said, "I'd be bummed."
Before Loza's arrest, the Ecuadorian immigrant was known as a friendly community activist and director of DC Latino PAC. In addition to the cash bribe, Loza is accused by federal prosecutors of accepting a trip to Ethiopia and free limo rides to airports and other destinations in the Washington area, according to two law enforcement sources.
A 10-page indictment accuses Loza of accepting separate $1,000 and $500 cash payments in June and July from a man identified only as "Individual Number 1" in exchange for promoting legislation and policies that helped the unnamed individual.
The indictment says Individual Number 1 wanted to limit the number of taxicab licenses issued by the District and to create an exception for hybrid vehicles under D.C. law. Three sources familiar with the investigation identified Individual Number 1 as Abdulaziz Kamus, executive director of the African Resource Center, a nonprofit group that assists African immigrants, according to news accounts. All the sources requested anonymity because they are not authorized to discuss active cases.
Efforts to reach Kamus have been unsuccessful.