Ex-aide to Jim Graham faces more charges in cab industry probe
Friday, April 2, 2010
A federal grand jury brought additional charges Thursday against Ted G. Loza, who was D.C. Council member Jim Graham's chief of staff before he was arrested last fall, accusing him of accepting or soliciting more than $30,000 in cash, trips, limousine rides and meals in exchange for pursuing legislation favorable to the taxicab industry.
When he was arrested Sept. 24, Loza was charged with two counts of bribery on allegations he accepted $1,500 in payments from Abdulaziz Kamus, an advocate for Ethiopian cabdrivers who was trying to secure advantages for that community in the city's taxicab market. In a superseding indictment filed Thursday, prosecutors are adding a count of conspiracy to commit bribery, an additional count of bribery, a count of extortion and a count of making false statements, according to the U.S. attorney's office.
The indictment spells out an effort by Loza to solicit or accept numerous gifts from Kamus for himself or others between August 2004 and November 2008. In exchange, according to the indictment, Loza agreed "to influence the passage of legislation" that was pending before a committee that at the time was chaired by Graham (D-Ward 1).
In some cases, the indictment alleges, Loza was soliciting gifts on behalf of "Public Official No. 1," who had chaired the Committee on Public Works and Transportation. Sources in the U.S. attorney's office previously confirmed to The Washington Post that Graham was "Public Official No. 1."
No charges have been filed against Graham, and there is no indication in the indictment that he did anything illegal. When reached Thursday night, Graham would only say, "The indictment does not charge me with any wrongdoing of any kind."
Loza, who was unavailable to comment Thursday, has denied wrongdoing. He is scheduled to go on trial in October.
The investigation stems from allegations that a group of Ethiopian business owners tried to bribe D.C. public officials to create an exemption for the number of taxicab licenses that would be issued in the District. In indictments handed down in the fall, Yitbarek Syume, 51, of Silver Spring and two others were charged with attempting to bribe Leon Swain Jr., chairman of the D.C. Taxi Commission, with $200,000.
Swain, who was not charged with any wrongdoing, alerted federal authorities to the alleged bribe and is cooperating with their investigation.
In 2004, Loza joined Graham on a trip to Ethiopia, which Graham deemed as cultural outreach. Loza's involvement in the investigation began in April 2007, when, according to the indictment, Kamus gave him $2,000. Six months later, Kamus, Syume and an unidentified co-conspirator met with Swain, the document says. At that meeting, the men stated that they planned to offer Graham another trip to Ethiopia in exchange for his support of legislation to impose a moratorium on the issuance of taxicab licenses.
On Nov. 27, 2007, prosecutors allege, Loza solicited money from Kamus for a trip that he and Graham were allegedly taking to El Salvador. After speaking with Syume, Kamus drove to the John A. Wilson Building on Nov. 28. Outside the building, Kamus gave Loza about $500 in cash, the indictment alleges.
Then, on Jan. 6, 2008, Kamus offered to arrange for Loza and Graham a trip to Ethiopia "as a reward for their help in enacting legislation to curb the issuance of taxicab licenses," according to the indictment. A few days later, Kamus allegedly told Loza that he had obtained airline tickets for him and Graham to take the trip. Syume also made hotel arrangements, according to the indictment. But Syume told another unidentified co-conspirator by telephone later that month that Graham had refused to make the trip, according to the indictment.
"Syume stated that for 'safety' reasons Public Official No. 1 would not travel to Ethiopia until after the moratorium on the issuance of taxicab company licenses had been enacted," the indictment states.
During the next three months, Loza is alleged to have accepted limousine rides from Kamus for him and his relatives, cash payments of $500 and $4,000, and free parking for his girlfriend.
On June 30, 2009, Graham introduced a bill that he has said was designed to limit the number of cab operators in the city because he feared the District was being overrun by taxis.
Graham has repeatedly denied wrongdoing and has stated that he was "fully cooperating" with authorities. In September, law enforcement officials told The Post that Graham was not a target of their investigation.
Graham said Thursday night that he was unaware at the time of Loza's alleged involvement in arranging possible trips for him to Ethiopia and Miami.
But D.C. Council Chairman Vincent C. Gray (D) has decided to shift oversight of the taxi industry from Graham to council member Michael A. Brown (I-At Large) until the investigation is complete.