Councilmember Jim Graham certainly ain’t no snitch.
In 2009, his then-chief of staff Ted Loza dropped an envelope on Graham’s desk at the Wilson Building filled with $2,600 in cash from a taxi lobbyist working undercover for the FBI. Graham turned the money down and would later say he thought the offer was “radioactive” at the time, but he didn’t tell anyone about it. After Loza pleaded guilty to accepting gratuities and was sentenced to a four-month prison term, Graham said that in hindsight he wished he’d reported Loza to authorities. There’s a question of whether Graham broke city rules that require him to report “corrupt or other criminal activity” by not telling anyone about Loza’s offer right away.
Newly released depositions related to the city’s messy lottery contracting process raise more questions about whether Graham acted properly when presented a possible illegal suggestion from a close associate that Graham says made him “extremely uncomfortable.”
Quick backstory: Eric Payne, the former contracting boss for the District’s Office of the Chief Financial Officer, is suing the city for wrongful termination. Payne says he was fired for resisting undue political meddling in the lottery contracting process. The newly released depositions were part of Payne’s civil suit.
In April 2008, Graham expressed concerns to CFO Nat Gandhi that Payne had acted improperly. Specfically, Graham says that shortly after he’d suggested that Payne speak to Graham’s friend, Dotti Love Wade, about the background of the local partner that had won the lottery contract (though the D.C. Council had still not voted on whether to approve the contract), Wade went to visit Graham and told him she might get a job from one of the contractors. Here’s how Graham described the conversation with Wade, taken from Graham’s deposition:
Graham: What gave me concern was that Dottie Love Wade came to my office and suggested that the—an arrangement and accommodation could be made, involving her, over the lottery contract, and I said that was highly inappropriate for her to make such a suggestion to me and that I had had no contact with her whatsoever about the lottery contract and so, she appeared, at that time, with this accommodation, I think, was the word she used and that led me to believe that something inappropriate might have happened.
Q. An accommodation that would have resulted in what?
A. Resulted in her being hired by the Greek company, the name of which I can’t even remember.
Q. And that would, in some way, shape, form or fashion, affect whether they would receive the contract?
Graham says in the deposition that he wasn’t sure if Wade “specifically suggested” that her potential financial benefit should influence Graham’s vote on the lottery, but says he was “extremely uncomfortable with the conversation, and had such a suggestion been made, it would have been illegal.”
“I heard enough, where I said, whoa, enough, you know. The conversation ended fairly quickly,” Graham said.
He later added: “You know, I had a reaction to Dottie Payne coming in—Dottie Wade coming into my office and suggesting what she suggested at that time. I found it very repulsive.”
(Wade did not immediately return a call seeking comment. Wade told an investigator from the CFO’s office that when she met with Graham, she did mention a job offer, but “she would never ask Graham to go against his conscience,” according to the investigator’s notes.)
So what did Graham do after feeling so uncomfortable and repulsed by Wade’s comments? Did he tell a law enforcement agency? Did he insist on a full investigation? Nope, Graham says he told told Gandhi about his conversation with Wade and expressed concern that Wade’s comments came shortly after Graham had directed Payne to speak with her.
But Graham insists in the deposition that he wasn’t seeking an investigation.
“I never called for an investigation,” Graham says. “I simply shared with Dr. Gandhi my concerns about what possibly be—might be a link here…”
In fact, Graham says he was “a little bit surprised” that the CFO’s Office of Integrity and Oversight launched a formal investigation into Payne’s actions. Graham says he expected a “more informal” inquiry into Payne’s actions.
“That maybe somebody would have asked the question and come back to me and said, you know, here are the results of the question,” Graham says.
So the question becomes: If Graham thought there was some potentially illegal behavior going on with Wade regarding the lottery contract, why didn’t he make sure the proper authorities launched a full investigation? After all, the city’s lucrative lottery contract is no small potatoes. Graham did not respond to requests for comment.
It’s worth noting that the CFO’s investigator, Robert Andary, exonerated Payne of any wrongdoing and roasted Graham for not being “candid,” according to a draft report of his investigation. Andary’s draft report also suggests Graham might have made allegations against Payne as a way to advance Graham’s “separate political agenda.” A recent independent investigation commissioned by Metro found that Graham acted improperly (though not illegally) when he tried to leverage his vote on the lottery to get a developer he didn’t like off a Metro development deal.
Here are the newly released depositions from the Payne case.
Photo by Darrow Montgomery