- The Washington Times - Friday, September 25, 2009

Federal authorities Thursday arrested D.C. Council member Jim Graham’s chief of staff, charging him with two counts of taking bribes from an unidentified individual to promote favorable taxicab legislation.

Mr. Graham is not mentioned by name in the indictment against Ted. G. Loza, who has spent 10 years as the council member’s chief of staff.

The indictment spells out a timeline in which Mr. Loza promises to intervene on the unidentified individual’s behalf to the council member in introducing legislation that contains a proposal similar to what was requested.

Mr. Graham, Ward 1 Democrat and chairman of the Committee on Public Works and Transportation that has oversight of the taxicab industry, told reporters Thursday that whatever illegal activity Mr. Loza may have been engaged in was not on his behalf.

“I have not engaged in any illegal or unethical behaviors,” he said.

John Roth, a spokesman for the U.S. attorney’s office, declined to comment on whether Mr. Graham was a subject of the investigation.

In the indictment unsealed Thursday, authorities say Mr. Loza, 45, received “a stream of things of value” for participating in the scheme, including but not limited to cash, the use of vehicles, and trips from a person “with financial interests in the taxicab industry.”

The person who paid the bribe to Mr. Loza, identified only as “Individual Number 1,” worked in what the indictment referred to as “repeated and longstanding corrupt efforts” to enact a moratorium on taxicab licenses but at the same time secure a special exemption for companies using environmentally friendly vehicles.

On June 19, Mr. Loza met with Individual Number 1, who gave him $1,000 in cash in return for Mr. Loza’s assurances that he would promote the requested policies.

Ten days later, the two met with Mr. Graham, who “declared that he would introduce that legislation.” On June 30, Mr. Graham introduced a bill that would limit the number of total taxicabs in the District by issuing medallions to a select number of operators and give preference to low-emissions vehicles.

The indictment says that on July 10 Mr. Loza gave Individual Number 1 a copy of the legislation.

“Beautiful, wow, beautiful,” Individual Number 1 said, according to a transcript of the conversation. “Really. I want to thank you very much.”

At the end of the conversation, after Mr. Loza had accepted $500 in cash, Mr. Loza said, “You know I need it. That’s why I take it, you know.”

Both conversations were recorded by federal agents.

Mr. Graham on Thursday denied that the activities with which Mr. Loza is charged had any influence on his actions.

“I was not influenced in any way in any of the allegations. I was not aware of them. I was not engaged with them or in any kind of behavior. All of this comes to me after the fact,” Mr. Graham said.

A hearing on the taxicab bill introduced by Mr. Graham is scheduled for Oct. 1.

Federal agents wearing white gloves searched Mr. Loza’s office in Mr. Graham’s suite on the first floor of the Wilson Building in Northwest Washington on Thursday for any documents and records related to taxicab legislation, licenses, medallions or financial transactions.

A warrant in support of the search said officials also were looking for any information regarding Prisma Communications, a District-based graphic-design business, and Fiesta DC, an annual Hispanic festival.

A man answering the telephone at Prisma Communications said that no one in the office would comment. No one answered the telephone at Fiesta.

It was unclear whether further charges would be forthcoming. The indictment references an unidentified “Staffer Number 1” in Mr. Graham’s office who was approached by the individual who sought the favorable legislation, and an “Individual Number 2” who also appeared to have knowledge of the scheme.

If convicted, Mr. Loza faces a maximum of 30 years in prison and a fine of $250,000 for each count.

Mr. Loza pleaded not guilty to the charges in U.S. District Court on Thursday afternoon. He was released on personal bond but was required to surrender his passport and check in with the court on a weekly basis. A status hearing was scheduled for Oct. 16.

D.C. Council Chairman Vincent C. Gray said he was not aware of the investigation until the arrest and subsequent search of the Wilson Building.

“I will leave the criminal investigation in the hands of law enforcement authorities and let the justice process take its course,” he said. “I plan to have a conversation with council member Graham to determine if the investigation will have any bearing on the broad operations of the council, and how this may affect the work of his office and the Committee on Public Works and Transportation, which Mr. Graham chairs.”

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