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FBI links ex-D.C. taxi panel chief to bribe scheme

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By Del Quentin Wilber
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, November 20, 2009

The former head of the D.C. taxi commission participated in a long-running bribery scheme that sought his influence to obtain lucrative taxi licenses, federal authorities allege in recently unsealed court papers.

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The accusations appear in an FBI affidavit seeking permission to search the home of Causton Toney, chairman of the D.C. Taxicab Commission from 2005 through early 2007.

Toney, 55, has not been charged with a crime, and his attorney said the former official has done nothing wrong.

The court papers and another recently unsealed court document provide the most detailed look yet into a two-year investigation that has resulted in 39 arrests of people in the taxi industry. A D.C. official, Ted G. Loza, the former chief of staff to a D.C. Council member, also has been charged.

The documents reveal that the investigation started in 2007, when the newly appointed chairman of the taxi commission, Leon J. Swain Jr., was approached by Yitbarek Syume, a powerful figure in the taxi industry.

Syume wanted Swain to approve licenses for new taxi companies and offered the commissioner $20,000, an FBI agent alleges in an affidavit seeking approval from a judge to search Toney's home.

Swain, a former D.C. police officer, reported the meeting to authorities and soon was working as an undercover informant.

Syume and two other men were indicted on charges of giving Swain more than $200,000 to obtain taxi company licenses during the undercover operation. The men hoped to obtain as many licenses as possible in anticipation of a moratorium on issuing licenses, prosecutors have said.

Authorities have not indicated why they raided Toney's house Oct. 2. He does business with Syume but is not named in the indictment. In the newly unsealed court papers, an FBI agent says that wiretaps and other recorded conversations link the former taxi commissioner to the conspiracy.

In November 2007, Toney told Syume in a phone call that he had talked to Swain and that Swain had told him that he "wants us to keep pushing ahead . . . to get this thing done so -- I'm going to do that," the affidavit says. The agent wrote that Toney's comments are a "possible reference to completing their scheme."

By this year, Swain had given Syume and the others numerous licenses, the FBI said, but the taxi commissioner had not officially activated them.

The conspirators wanted him to put the names of at least some of the companies on the D.C. government Web site to give them a veneer of legitimacy, the FBI agent wrote.


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