AN INDEPENDENT investigation has found that D.C. Council member Jim Graham (D-Ward 1), while on the Metro board, inappropriately tried to get a developer to withdraw from a project by using the District’s lucrative lottery contract as barter. Law enforcement authorities now will determine whether any criminality was involved. But the breach of his public duty and his dishonesty about it are incompatible with holding public office.
A four-month investigation by a law firm hired by the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority determined that Mr. Graham’s actions constituted a conflict of interest and that he violated his obligation to place the public interest first in contract award decisions. Investigators from Cadwalader, Wickersham and Taft LLP were charged with determining only whether Mr. Graham’s role in a 2008 Metro development project on Florida Avenue NW violated the transit agency’s code of conduct.
The meticulous report cites incontrovertible evidence — including some of his own e-mails that he was unable to explain — that Mr. Graham had breached standards governing conflict of interest and impartiality when he told a bidder for the project that he would consider supporting that bidder’s separate effort to win the D.C. lottery contract if his Banneker Ventures development firm would drop out of the Metro land deal. Mr. Graham, according to the report, favored a different developer for that deal.
Bradley J. Bondi, lead investigator for the firm, said at a news conference Thursday that law enforcement authorities, whom he declined to identify, have been provided with the report. The U.S. Attorney’s Office, which is conducting a broad probe into D.C. government corruption, would not comment.
Mr. Graham, who cooperated with investigators, reiterated his view that he has done nothing improper. He said that he was mystified by the findings since Metro’s general counsel — in what he had called “a careful review” — found no violations. But that first review now looks less than thorough. According to the report, General Counsel Carol B. O’Keeffe “did not interview witnesses, did not collect and review documents from the parties involved, and did not examine allegations of Board Member misconduct when formulating her response.” In response to a phone call from Mr. Graham, Metro’s deputy general counsel wrote him on April 30, 2010, “The General Counsel and her staff will work closely with you in addressing your concerns. . . . I can assure you that your interests and the interests of the Authority will be addressed in the response.”
When a Jan. 20, 2012, report by D.C. Inspector General Charles Willoughby included allegations that Mr. Graham tried to exchange his support for a lottery contract during a May 29, 2008, meeting with a Banneker principal, Mr. Graham told us, “It’s a lie.” When contemporaneous e-mails about the meeting reported by this page raised doubts, Mr. Graham characterized our questions as “sullying intrigue and aspersion.” When Cadwalader investigators asked about that meeting, Mr. Graham replied: “I don’t recall.”
The Metro board is to be commended for its decision to commission this thorough — albeit belated — investigation. The effort puts to shame the response of D.C. agencies that also had been made aware of these events. But even this report isn’t the end of the story. For example, LaKritz Adler, the developer Mr. Graham favored for the Metro development, did not fully cooperate with the investigation, according to the report, at first resisting subpoenas and allowing a partner to be interviewed but not to give sworn testimony. So unanswered questions remain about why, as the report said, “instead of working to bring the Florida Avenue Project to fruition, Councilmember Graham attempted to undermine the selected developer, Banneker Ventures, and tried to promote LaKritz Adler or to orchestrate the composition of the development team in favor of LaKritz Adler.”