By Del Quentin Wilber and Mike DeBonis
Washington Post Staff Writers
Saturday, February 19, 2011; B01
A former top D.C. Council staffer admitted Friday in federal court that he accepted cash for helping push legislation, ending the highest-profile prosecution to emerge from a lengthy federal corruption investigation into how the city government oversees the taxi industry.
Wearing a dark blue suit with a D.C. flag pin on the lapel, Ted G. Loza, 45, the former chief of staff to D.C. Council member Jim Graham (D-Ward 1), pleaded guilty in District Court in Washington to charges of accepting an illegal gratuity. He also pleaded guilty to making a false statement on a D.C. government financial disclosure form. He could face eight to 14 months in prison under federal guidelines at his sentencing May 12.
Loza declined to comment after the hour-long hearing before U.S. District Judge Paul L. Friedman. But his attorney, Pleasant Brodnax, told reporters that there was no cooperation agreement as part of the plea deal - an indication that authorities will not be using Loza to seek indictments of others, including city officials.
Brodnax also stressed that Loza had not pleaded guilty to bribery or conspiracy, charges that had been levied against him.
"These charges do not involve bribes," Broadnax said. "They do not involve conspiracy. They do not involve extortion." Loza, he added, "didn't do anything in return" for the money he took.
"He wants to put this behind him," Broadnax said.
Loza, a native of Ecuador who is not a U.S. citizen and is likely to face deportation because he pleaded guilty to two felonies, admitted in court that he accepted $1,500 in payments in 2009 during two surreptitiously videotaped meetings with an FBI informant.
Loza accepted the payments "for his assistance with the introduction" of legislation that would have exempted hybrid taxis from an existing moratorium on cab licenses, according to court papers.
The informant, prosecutors said, was Abdulaziz Kamus, an advocate for Ethiopian cabdrivers, who was working closely with others with taxi businesses. In one of those meetings, prosecutors previously disclosed in court papers, Kamus handed Loza a "Father's Day" present of an envelope containing $1,000 in cash, according to court papers.
"What do you want me to do?" Loza asked after receiving the cash, according to a transcript of the conversation. "What do you want me, I'll talk to [Graham]. And I can call you back later on."
Shortly thereafter, Graham introduced the hybrid exception to the taxi moratorium, authorities have said. Graham has denied wrongdoing and has not been charged with a crime.
On Friday, the council member said he was "happy for Mr. Loza that this has come to an end. He can now put this behind him, find the right path, and once again work on the issues that he cares so much about."
In a superseding indictment filed in April, prosecutors alleged that Loza had participated in a wide-ranging conspiracy for years and had accepted more than $30,000 in cash, trips, limousine rides and meals from Kamus over the years to help enact the original moratorium on taxi licenses and later the hybrid exception.
Prosecutors withdrew the broader conspiracy and bribery charges as part of the plea deal reached Friday.
William Miller, a spokesman for the U.S. attorney's office, declined to comment on what led prosecutors to accept Loza's plea to the lesser charges of accepting $1,500 in gratuities.
Loza's arrest in September 2009 was the first public action in a long-running federal corruption probe. Shortly after Loza's arrest, federal authorities unsealed indictments of three Ethiopian business owners accused of giving the chairman of the D.C. Taxicab Commission more than $200,000 in bribes over a two-year span. Their cases are pending in federal court.
The commission's chairman, Leon Swain Jr., alerted federal authorities to the bribery attempt and soon became an undercover FBI informant.
In addition to the indictments against the three business owners, Swain's undercover work led to charges against 36 other men accused of paying more than $100,000 to obtain taxi-operator licenses.