Ted Giovanny Loza did what no bribery suspect should ever do. He spilled.
When the former D.C. official landed at Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport in Atlanta Georgia for a layover on Aug. 17, 2009, he got an unusual greeting. Loza, then the chief of staff to four-term D.C. Councilmember Jim Graham, was on his way back to the District after visiting Ecuador, his native country, when he was halted by an armed customs agent. Moments later, Loza would find himself in a back room being grilled by FBI agents about his relationship with D.C. cab companies.
But now in a Dec. 5 motion in the legal case that followed, Loza’s lawyers contend that that day and the next, the feds “relentlessly questioned Mr. Loza for nearly twelve straight hours, including multiple hours in a small eight-by-ten private room, about alleged public corruption involving the D.C. taxicab industry.” Loza talked during those interviews without ever being read his rights, the motion argues. As a result, none of the statements he provided within those two hot summer days should count. The motion reads: “Telling, the government has failed to produce any evidence of Mr. Loza’s intentional and knowing waiver of his rights, which is not surprising considering he was never informed of his rights.” As a result, the filing says, Judge Paul Friedman should suppress them.
During an “epic twelve-hour” interrogation, FBI agents Patrick Westerhaus and Jay Greenberg played hardball. “The agents informed Mr. Loza that if he refused to cooperate and assist law enforcement in their investigation they would make sure that he went to prison for many years, after which he would be deported from the United States.” The g-men told Loza that if he didn’t talk, he’d be indicted, and that would equal a one-way ticket back to Ecuador for the immigrant.
He’d be separated from his family, they explained, deported. “The agents then instructed Mr. Loza to list every instance in which he had taken money—whether in the form of cash, gifts, a meal, or a coffee—since 2004. Mr. Loza, intimidated and believing that he had no choice, complied with the agent’s instructions.”
In other words, even if only briefly and narrowly, he sang.
As proof that Loza was under arrest and not just palling around with the FBI—and so should have been given the standard “you-have the-right-to remain-silent” Miranda warning—the motion points out that Loza was constantly accompanied by agents during his interview, even when nature called. “In fact, on all but one occasion the agents actually accompanied Mr. Loza into the bathroom and supervised his use of the bathroom.” There would be even more escorting:
At the conclusion of the [first day] of interrogation, the FBI agents escorted Mr. Loza to a hotel near the airport, even though the agents never asked Mr. Loza if he was “willing” to spend the night in Atlanta away from his family. The agents simply checked him into the hotel and escorted him to his room.
The feds then searched the hotel room before escorting Loza inside. They left, but returned to escort Loza to dinner. After dinner, they escorted him back to his room, where they snagged Loza’s credit card, passport, and license. The agents then escorted themselves out. Early the next morning , the escorting began all over again. FBI agents escorted Loza to their hotel room, where they asked him more questions. Afterward, the agents pressured Loza to sign a statement saying he’d taken bribes. Perhaps because he’d finally gathered his wits, he refused.
The interrogation ended, but—still without having read Loza his rights, Loza’s lawyers say—there would be a little more escorting. The FBI escorted Loza to an 11 a.m. flight to Washington. Arriving in the city, Greenberg even escorted Loza from the airport to his place of work by giving him a ride. In September, Loza was officially arrested and charged for accepting trips and money to influence legislation that would have allowed “green” taxi cab companies to score much sought after and limited hack business permits.
The introduction of Mr. Loza’s unwarned statements at trial would constitute a Miranda violation, the motion argues. It’ll be ruled on by Jan. 20. Loza’s trial will begin March 7.
But even if this new argument wins out, it might not help Loza out all that much—since in an indictment the prosecution says it has recordings of Loza talking to a briber, and saying incriminating things like, “You know I need it. That’s why I take it, you know.”
Photo by Darrow Montgomery