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Today, 27 individuals have been arrested in connection with the growing taxicab bribery scandal. Moments ago, two indictments were unsealed. You can read them here and here. Nearly 30 individuals have been indicted in federal court.
One indictment concerns three individuals: Yitbarek Syume, Berhane Leghese, and Amanuel Ghirmazion. They have been charged with bribing and conspiring to bribe the chairperson of the taxicab commission—-Leon Swain Jr., who then cooperated with authorities. If convicted, the three each face up to five years in prison and a fine of up to $250,000. These three individuals are alleged to have:
knowingly and willfully conspired and agreed together and with each other, and with other persons both known and unknown to the grand jury, to commit the following offenses against the United States: that is to directly and indirectly, corruptly give, offer, and promise things of value to the Chairperson, with intent to influence official acts….[they] agreed to give approximately $220,000 in cash to the Chairperson in return for the Chairperson’s agreement to issue numerous multi-vehicle taxicab company licenses.
According to the indictment, they agreed to pay the Chairperson approximately $10,000 per license for multi-vehicle taxicab companies.
The indictment states:
The principal role of Ghirmazion was to raise money for the scheme; the principal role of Leghese was to prepare documents associated with the corruptly obtained multi-vehicle taxicab company licenses; and the principal role of Syume was to arrange for and make a series of bribe payments to the Chairperson.
The indictment goes on to state:
It was further part of the conspiracy that attempts were made to obtain corruptly large numbers of licenses for multi-vehicle taxicab companies from the Chairperson.
It was further part of the conspiracy that the DEFENDANTS intended to sell some of the licenses for multi-vehicle taxicab companies that they had corruptly obtained to finance their scheme, and to hold the balance of the licenses in anticipation of the licenses becoming more valuable.
*The bribery began in September 2007 with Syume giving the Chairperson a list of seven cab companies which he requested “licensing without proper authorization.” That same day—-Sept. 5, 2007—-Syume gave $14,000 in cash in exchange for the requested licences.
*On Sept. 6, according to the indictment, Syume gave two more envelopes of cash to the chairperson totaling about $8,000.
*On Sept. 25, Syume received the licenses from the chairperson.
Syume continued to give the chairperson thousands of dollars in cash through October. For example:
On or about October 17, 2007, Syume again put a folded newspaper containing approximately $3,000 in cash into the Chairperson’s automobile as partial payment for multi-vehicle taxicab company licenses.
On Nov. 8, 2007, Syume and Leghese, the indictment states, discussed via phone selling the licenses at $150,000 a piece. Less than a week later, Syume “gave a shopping bag containing approximately $59,880 in cash.”
The bribes continued into the spring of 2008. The indictment ends in July 2008. But not before producing this chilling entry into the court record:
On or about July 5, 2008, Syume and Leghese spoke by telephone, at which time they discussed their concerns about the Chairperson; Leghese stated: ‘We have to be careful that [the Chairperson] will not play any games, do you understand?’
The second indictment contains a whopping 37 defendants. It appears that much of their allegedly illegal activities are of a more recent vintage—-last month:
From between Sept. 3 to Sept. 28, 2009, the defendants allegedly conspired to “directly and indirectly, corruptly give, offer, and promise things of value to the Chairperson, with intent to influence official acts, that is the DEFENDANTS agreed to give cash in various amounts to the Chairperson in return for his agreement to issue taxicab operator licenses to the DEFENDANTS.
Let’s just say, the indictment paints a picture of a very well organized crew. The taxicab industry has failed to influence the public and, say, Mayor Fenty on meters. But they had this bribery thing down:
On or about September 3, 3009, Yitbarek Syume and Suraphel Ayalew met the Chairperson, at which time they discussed the method by which they would obtain corruptly taxicab operator licenses, including the preparation of applications, the location for meetings, and the amount of the bribes to be paid to the Chairperson.
On Sept. 11, a huge number of the defendants met the chairperson “at which time they paid cash to him for taxicab operator licenses that they were attempting to obtain corruptly.”
A week later, Syume handed over $51,000 in cash to the chairperson. That same day, Syume and others received licenses. They repeated this several more times.
The final bit of action listed in the indictment took place on Sept. 28, 2009: “Yitbarek Syume met the Chairperson at which time he discussed the logistics for the receipt of taxicab operator licenses by himself and the other co-conspirators.”
The defendants have been charged with conspiracy to commit bribery, aiding and abetting, and “Causing an Act to be Done.” If convicted, each of these defendants face up to five years in prison and a five of up to $250,000.
“The allegations contained in these indictments are serious—describing alleged corrupt activities at the heart of our taxicab industry—and reflect our determination to root out corruption in our government,” stated Acting U.S. Attorney Channing Phillips in a press release. “Working closely with the FBI, we will continue to investigate this matter fully.”
Twenty-seven defendants have been arrested so far. Five search warrants have been executed as well.