When Ted Loza flew into the Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport in Atlanta, he ended up sitting in one of the small, windowless screening rooms sometimes utilized by Customs and Border Protection agents. Loza, the former right-hand man to Ward 1 Councilmember Jim Graham, must have been nervous. Flying back from his native country of Ecuador with Ligia Muñoz, he’d been pulled aside by security officials. Later, Muñoz would make the connecting flight to D.C. Loza, on the other hand, would find himself steeped in conversation with two FBI agents.
Lawyers for Loza, who is currently facing corruption charges that include bribery, argue that during his chat with authorities, Loza was under arrest. The fact that he was “escorted” everywhere he went, including to dinner at TGI Fridays, proves it. During the supposed arrest, Loza’s lawyers say, the feds neglected to inform Loza of his rights. That means, the defense is arguing in a December motion, the stuff the agents got during their “marathon interrogation” shouldn’t show up in court.
If that happens, that’ll be a victory for Loza, since, during the talk, he also neglected to remain silent.
He listed every instance in which he had taken money—whether in the form of cash, gifts, a meal, or a coffee—since 2004. Loza was officially arrested in September 2009.
In a recent opposition to the motion, authorities give their version of what happened at Hartsfield, though, and it’s way different. They say authorities never gave Loza the impression he was going to be cuffed, and Loza didn’t seem as if he was worried about it. When they met up with him, they say, he was “calm and composed.”
“After introductions, agents explained the purpose of the meeting to the defendant: That they had conducted an investigation of individuals involved with corruption in the Washington taxicab industry and wished to discuss the defendant’s improper associations with those individuals.”
Prosecutors say that though the agents closed the door to the room—for privacy— it was never locked. They also say that agents made it “clear that the decision whether to cooperate was the defendant’s alone.”
Other clues Loza wasn’t under arrest? The agents spoke to him in a “conversational tone” and never “rose from their seats.” Also, Loza was never searched or frisked, and spent a lot of time on his phone, a device to which he had “unfettered access.” At one point, that was a problem, as “the defendant seemed distracted: he was more interested in using his Blackberry cellular telephone than talking with the agents.” Prosecutors call the whole interaction “cordial.”
Loza’s trial will begin March 7.
Photo by Darrow Montgomery