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There’s big news buried in today’s Post coverage of the sentencing of Ward 1 Councilmember Jim Graham‘s former chief of staff Ted Loza, who has pleaded guilty to corruption charges.
The real news: Graham rejected $2,600 Loza tried to give him on behalf of Abdul Kamus, who was a kind of lobbyist for a group of Ethiopian cabbies who federal prosecutors say in court records tried to pay more than $20,000 in bribes in order to “secure advantages in the taxicab industry.”
Says the Post on Graham:
Kamus also handed Loza $2,600 in an envelope to pass along to Graham — money the council member did not accept, according to officials. During a meeting videotaped later, Loza returned the money to Kamus.
Graham said in an interview that he told Loza to immediately return the money but was so shocked by the experience that he did not call authorities.
“I accepted nothing of value, including cash, from anyone who may have had an intention of attempting to influence legislation,” Graham said.
The way things are currently going at the Wilson Building, it might be easy enough to score Graham’s refusing the money as an ethical win. He actually turned down the money! But it’s not that simple. City personnel rules seem to indicate pretty clearly that Graham should have reported Loza immediately. The council’s own ethics website lays it out:
A Councilmember shall report immediately to the Office of the Inspector General, or other appropriate authorities any information concerning conduct which he or she knows, or should know, involves corrupt or other criminal activity, or conflict of interest of another Councilmember or employee of the District of Columbia or person dealing with the District.
Given the fact that Graham told Loza to give the money back right away, Graham obviously knew something was amiss—or in council rules talk, he had information concerning conduct he knew, or should have known, involved corruption. So why not report it? Reached by phone earlier this afternoon, Graham said he was busy but promised to call LL back. He hasn’t yet, but LL will update as needed.
Besides not reporting the cash, Graham still decided to keep Loza on as his chief of staff, until the FBI put the cuffs on Loza several months later. Graham may have been “shocked by the experience” of being offered $2,600 by his chief of staff, but it apparently didn’t shake his confidence in Loza.
“I am deeply troubled at the indictment of Teddy Loza,” Graham said shortly after Loza’s arrest in September 2009, calling him “someone I have grown to trust and have confidence in.”
UPDATE: LL got a copy of a transcript of the meeting between Loza and Kamus, who gives Loza the money for Graham shortly after handing Loza $500 for his role in getting legislation introduced that would limit the number of taxi business licenses issues.
Kamus: Here—here. This is for you. And, uh, thank you very much for him. [Kamus handed $500 in cash to Loza.]
Loza: You know I need it. That’s why I take it, you know.
Kamus: And this is for Councilmember Jim Graham. For introducing the, you know, legislation. And I want to —
Loza: And if he doesn’t take it?
Kamus: Just let me know. You know.
Loza: I’ll give it back to you.
[A bit later in the conversation]
Loza: But I’m almost sure he’s gonna say give it back to you.
Loza: But I’ll let you know.
Kamus: Alright, sir.
Loza: Thank you.
Kamus: Take care.
Also, a reader points out that under the D.C. Whistleblower Protection Act, any supervisor “employed by the District government shall make all protected disclosures involving any violation of the law, rule, regulation or [contract] as soon as the supervisor becomes aware of the violation.” The law for some strange reason exempts council employees, but defines a supervisor as any District employee with the authority to “hire, transfer, suspend, lay off, recall, promote discharge, assign, reward, or discipline other employees,” a definition that sure sounds like a councilmember.
Photo by Darrow Montgomery