Ties That Blind: Did Graham overlook Loza?s red flags?
Ties That Blind: Did Graham overlook Loza?s red flags? Credit: Darrow Montgomery/file

We know D.C. Get our free newsletter to stay in the know.

Success! You're on the list.

Last Thursday, Ward 1 Councilmember Jim Graham stood in the corner of his office and spoke about his closest aide, arrested hours earlier for allegedly taking $1,500 in bribes to influence taxicab legislation. Only a thin wall separated Graham from a pack of federal agents, combing Ted Loza’s office for evidence of corruption in the taxi industry.

“I am deeply troubled at the indictment of Teddy Loza,” Graham said, calling him “someone I have grown to trust and have confidence in.”

That doesn’t even begin to cover it.

During his nine years in the council office, Loza forged a political and personal bond with his boss unique among Graham staffers past or present—one that plowed through all the barriers separating office life from personal life. Says one former staffer, “Some of us did call him ‘Siamese Twin,’ because it was like they were attached at the hip.” Another ex-staffer calls Loza and Graham “inseparable in the professional sense.”

Chumminess with the boss was a hard get in the confines of Graham’s office, which resembles something of a municipal factory floor. The Ward 1 councilmember wields a taskmaster’s approach to human resources, demanding long hours and absolute loyalty. Some ex-employees, many of them scattered around the District bureaucracy, have taken to calling themselves “SOJs”—survivors of Jim.

“If you are an employee, you are treated like a servant. There’s no such thing as comp time,” says one of the staffers. “Any time was Jim’s time. It didn’t matter. If you would be a few minutes late to the office, it’s like you committed a cardinal sin.”

But Loza was different.

He was hired by Graham in 2001, while Loza was in a low-level job in the city personnel office. According to one story Loza liked to tell, he wore a bow tie at the time—the better to catch the eye of two prominent bow-tie-wearers then in elected office: Mayor Anthony A. Williams and Graham, who had oversight over the personnel office at the time.

Loza eased into a staff spot, initially coming on part-time before settling into a full-time role as Graham’s liaison to the ward’s large Latino contingent. In that role, staffers and community members say, he was a relentless worker, a fixture in community meetings, and diligent in resolving neighborhood disputes. By 2006, he had moved up to chief of staff.

“With Ted, because of the relationship that Ted and Jim had, you felt like you were talking to the councilmember. I never felt like I had a moment where I was talking to Ted,” says Bryan Weaver, an Adams Morgan community activist who’s had his share of disagreements with Graham. “Any councilmember would want a chief of staff like that.”

In Loza’s hands, the chief of staff position encompassed a fair bit of junket planning for the councilmember. Ward 1 is easily the city’s most diverse, with large populations of Latinos, Africans, and African-Americans, among others—a melting pot that doubled as a great pretext for overseas trips during council breaks. First came a 2001 mission to El Salvador, shortly after an earthquake in the country that’s home to a hefty share of Ward 1’ers. Soon after, Loza would represent Graham on a humanitarian trip to Cuba. In 2004, Loza accompanied Graham on a journey to Ethiopia paid for by local Ethiopian business leaders. More trips to Central America and South America followed—most recently, a summer jaunt to Ecuador, Loza’s homeland.

The transcontinental travel changed Loza from a dutiful, deferential emissary to a Graham goon, a more arrogant, self-assured enforcer of the councilmember’s will, according to several sources. And Graham became more protective of Loza, defending him against criticism in neighborhood or office disputes.

“From the standpoint of a councilmember, maybe Ted had that true-believer feeling about Jim,” Weaver says. And “if Jim was calling to defend Ted, it did take on a sort of a fatherly feel a little bit. I think for each of them, they were their strongest defenders.”

That’s understating the relationship.

Graham, early on in Loza’s tenure, loaned him a small amount, $1,140, from his constituent services fund (a courtesy also extended to colleague Calvin Woodland Jr.—the only member of Graham’s staff who has served longer than Loza). Loza quickly paid the money back. And in 2002, Graham co-signed on a loan to help Loza and his companion Ligia X. Munoz buy a $202,000 condo in a Columbia Heights apartment building. And the bond went beyond financial assistance. Recently, Graham has shepherded Loza’s application for citizenship though the federal bureaucracy, making calls to officials on his behalf.

As the years ticked by, Graham and Loza continued to redefine their relationship, not always in the most savory ways. In December 2005, while on a holiday junket to El Salvador, Loza had sex with a 26-year-old woman there. After Loza returned to Washington, the woman learned she was pregnant and informed Loza, who, according to court documents, arranged for her to come to D.C. on a tourist visa.

After she arrived, Loza pressured the woman to abort the baby, according to court records. Part of Loza’s coercion, the woman would later testify, was physical. “On one occasion, after the parties had driven to get [the woman] a burrito, [she] reiterated that she did not want an abortion,” a judge wrote. “[Loza] became upset and pushed the defendant out of the car. She was not injured. The car door was open, she said.”

Loza’s behavior was troubling enough that the woman’s sister contacted his boss to help intervene. Graham’s reply to that entreaty: “Does thsi conduct involve his professional responsibilities o his behavior on personal issues? Bests Jim.”

The e-mail suggests that Graham had no interest in wading into this one. He didn’t succeed: By the end of the month, the woman had had the abortion, more than five months into the pregnancy.

Graham put the $3,200 late-term abortion onto his personal credit card, according to a receipt included in court records. Graham says, “This was a very difficult and personal time for Teddy,” adding that the money was paid back “promptly.” Loza says pretty much the same thing: “This is a chapter in my life that is painful and I would have no further comment.”

The abortion didn’t work wonders for Loza’s relationship with the woman. According to a document filed by the woman’s lawyer, “within two weeks of the abortion Mr. Loza began sexually abusing her and assaulting her (often during sex).” (The woman, through her sister, declined to comment.)

When the woman told Loza that she was pregnant again, in March 2007, Loza “reacted violently” and “hit [the woman] on the head with the sole of a leather shoe, the type he wears to work,” according to a judge’s finding. Loza then “pushed her against the wall” while the woman crouched down to protect her unborn child from the beating.

Loza began what the woman’s lawyer would call a “relentless campaign to terminate the pregnancy.” But this time she refused to do it.

The baby was born in October 2007. Two months later, on Dec. 10, Loza again abused the woman, after she tossed into the garbage some old shoes belonging to another woman Loza had fathered a child with. Loza, according to court documents, “berated” the woman, saying “that she was stupid and that she should not touch anything belonging to the mother of his other children.” Scared of what Loza might do, she took the baby and left the apartment. It was after 1 a.m., and it was raining outside.

Court records outline what happened next: A passerby hailed a cab to drive her to the police station. There, police told her to go back to Loza’s place to work things out. She did, spending the night on the couch with the baby. In the morning, Loza “called her stupid” and “said that she has only caused problems since she has been here and that she should not do anything because he could hurt her a lot.” He then pushed the woman “very hard” and invited her to fight him. She didn’t.

That day, she left Loza’s apartment, filed for a restraining order, and never returned. She went to live with her sister and struggled to make ends meet.

Whereas most Salvadoran immigrants come to the U.S. in order to send money back home, the woman was relying on her own mother sending money from El Salvador, says the woman’s sister.

For months afterward, Loza denied paternity and refused to pay child support. Then, while simultaneously denying he was father of the child in one court proceeding, he filed another court action demanding sole custody. (These court proceedings yielded the details for the history of Loza’s stormy relationship with his companion.) In March 2008, a judge ordered Loza to pay $878 per month in child support.

Loza eventually dropped his paternity challenge and continued pressing for custody of the child. The woman’s lawyer succinctly presented the case this way in a court filing: “Ted Loza is an adjudicated batterer who demanded the abortion of the very minor child of whom he now seeks custody. After his daughter was born, Mr. Loza showed no interest in her, concealing her very existence from his family.”

Loza’s lawyer retorted that the woman was leading a “double lifestyle” on the Internet. As proof of this duplicity, a court filing included a printout of the woman’s MySpace page, including photos of the woman in a swimsuit, and the blockbuster allegation that of her 360 online friends, “252 or 66% are males.” As for the custody issue, Loza’s essential position was that the woman’s immigration status was in flux and she could be sent to El Salvador. About a year ago, the woman was granted a four-year ‘T’ visa—a type of visa reserved for victims of human trafficking.

Earlier this year, Superior Court Judge Jerry S. Byrd tossed the custody case out of court, finding that Loza had abused the mother on at least two occasions and that he “has shown little or no interest in the minor child.”

In a deposition, Loza explained why he waited some six months after the woman left his apartment to file for visitation rights: “I’ve got 90,000 people that we are responsible for in our ward. I’m the chief of staff for an elected official. I’m trying to stay active in presidential campaigns.”

Of the whole court proceeding, Loza says in a statement: “I have always disputed these horrible allegations. I had a relationship with [her]. I was active and present when my daughter was born. I was in the delivery room. We named her after my mother and she bears my last name. Unfortunately, [her] allegations were designed to allow her to stay in this country legally. I do not blame her for that.”

Not only does Loza have the $878 per month obligation to care for this youngest child, but he has three other children by two mothers. A search of court records in Virginia and the District did not turn up any further child support obligations. There are other signs of financial stress: City records indicate that Loza owes more than $13,000 in property taxes on his Columbia Heights condo.

Then there’s his legal fees for the custody dispute. Loza’s lawyer in that matter, Dominic G. Vorv, says he cut Loza a break on a case that easily could have cost $10,000. “I gave him a good deal because he’s a community leader,” Vorv says. “I helped him out. To me, Ted has always been an honorable, respectful person. He fought to be in the life of this child.” Prior to retaining Vorv, Loza had Warner Session, a well-respected and politically connected attorney, assist him in his dealings with the woman.

Loza has had run-ins with the law in matters not involving his familial obligations. He was arrested on an assault charge in Virginia in 1999, prior to joining Graham’s staff. Graham said on Thursday that he was unaware of the arrest. In March 2008, Loza tangled with a bouncer at the Marvin restaurant and bar on 14th Street, during which, according to a police report, Loza said he would “possibly bring up whether Marvin’s liquor license should be suspended.” Graham, then as now, has oversight over the city liquor licensing apparatus. He said Thursday that after the incident was reported, “[Loza] and I discussed it, and there were various discussions about that.”

Loza’s legal and personal issues in recent years go some way toward explaining why, when allegedly accepting an envelope stuffed with $500 in cash, he told his alleged briber, “You know I need it. That’s why I take it, you know.”

When asked last week about Loza’s money issues, whether he had any personal issues that would explain the allegations, Graham said, “I have no idea.”

That’s a tough line to swallow considering Graham and Loza’s financial entanglements.

And just as Graham insists upon ignorance about Loza’s money problems, he also takes a know-nothing stance on his aide’s legislative activities, which are at the heart of the two-count bribery indictment. In his initial comments to reporters last Thursday, Graham made an unusually broad statement of denial. Not only did he insist that he “had no engagement whatsoever in any illegal or unethical behaviors,” but he added that Loza “has never to my recollection spoken to me about any element of any taxicab bill I was considering.”

Consider the implications of that statement: Graham is saying that he didn’t confer at all with Loza about a crucial piece of legislation in his council docket. At the same time, Loza’s court file indicates that his boss was deeply involved in his relationship troubles. Thus the prospect that Graham knew more about Loza’s personal life than about his work on the council.

How credible is that scenario?

Loza declined to comment on his relationship with Graham, but he was clearly closer to him than anyone else in his office. And even though Loza was a community liaison, not a legislative guy, that doesn’t mean his influence didn’t bridge those worlds. His role in the office was that of political handyman—the operative who kept his ear to the ground in the ward, who could tell whether a particular legislative effort would keep his boss in good stead with the electorate.

Over their years in the trenches, Graham grew to respect Loza’s “opinion on how something affects the community,” in the words of a former staffer. If Loza had ever told Graham that a small change to taxicab legislation would help the councilmember with his Ethiopian constituents, “his ears would perk up.”

The councilmember declined a request for an interview on his relationship with Loza. Through a spokesperson, however, he denied knowing about the abuse alleged in Loza’s family court file.

“I have 25 years of service in the District of Columbia,” Graham said shortly after news of the indictment broke. “I have never, ever had any taint in that record. I have behaved with the utmost care in terms of ethics, conflicts of interest. That situation continues to this day.”

Get Loose Lips Daily every weekday morning in your inbox—sign up at washingtoncitypaper.com/blogs/citydesk. Got a tip for LL? Send suggestions to lips@washingtoncitypaper.com. Or call (202) 332-2100, x 244, 24 hours a day.