Man Accused of Threat to Kill Informant in D.C. Taxi Case

Yitbarek Syume has pleaded not guilty to bribery charges.
Yitbarek Syume has pleaded not guilty to bribery charges. (Giuliana Nakashima - The Washington Post)
By Del Quentin Wilber
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, October 8, 2009

One of the members of the taxi industry charged in a far-reaching bribery investigation in the District threatened to kill a confidential informant and asked another informant to destroy evidence, according to court papers released Wednesday.

The papers say Yitbarek Syume met with an undercover FBI agent and an informant the day after the top aide to a prominent D.C. Council member was arrested last month on bribery charges.

The three men discussed the high-profile arrest and how to avoid detection of their scheme, which funneled more than $300,000 to a D.C. government official, prosecutors wrote in court papers, citing a surreptitious recording of the meeting.

Syume urged the informant to destroy evidence of their illegal payoffs, prosecutors wrote. He also talked about killing another informant, Abdulaziz Kamus, a taxi driver advocate, who cooperated with the FBI and wore a recording device while giving the council aide $1,500 in bribes, prosecutors said.

Kamus's identity as the informant had been disclosed that morning in a Washington Post story.

He "will be eliminated," Syume told the agent and the informant, prosecutors wrote in court documents. "Don't worry," Syume said. Kamus will be "permanently eliminated."

Syume and 38 others were indicted last week on charges they gave D.C. Taxicab Commission Chairman Leon J. Swain Jr. more than $300,000 in bribes during a two-year period. Syume pleaded not guilty but remained detained pending a hearing Thursday in the District's federal court. The other defendants were released on their own recognizance.

Syume and two others are accused of giving Swain, who was working undercover for the FBI, about $220,000 in 2007 and last year to obtain permits to operate cab companies in the District. Syume and 36 other men are charged with giving Swain $110,000 last month to obtain individual taxi licenses.

Syume's attorney, Thomas Abbenante, said that his client "has no history of violence, no prior record" and that he hoped to persuade a judge to release him. "He is not a danger to anyone in the community."

Many of the men were arrested Friday when they went to the D.C. police academy to take what they thought was training they needed to obtain the illegally purchased licenses, authorities said.

Kamus and his attorney, Shawn Moore, have declined to comment.

The investigation became public Sept. 24, when FBI agents arrested Ted G. Loza, chief of staff to council member Jim Graham (D-Ward 1). Loza is accused of accepting $1,500 in cash and free trips in exchange for pushing taxi legislation that would benefit Kamus. Loza has pleaded not guilty.

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