The District's ethics board found "sufficient evidence" that a D.C. Council member violated the city's code of conduct by proposing to a local businessman that he withdraw from a Metro development project in exchange for support in an unrelated bid for a contract to run the D.C. Lottery.
But in a 28-page report issued Thursday, the three-person D.C. Board of Ethics and Accountability said constitutional constraints prevented the newly created body from imposing sanctions against D.C. Council member Jim Graham for misconduct and dismissed the complaint.
The findings drew heavily from a report released in October by the law firm Cadwalader, Wickersham and Taft LLP that said there was evidence Mr. Graham asked Warren C. Williams, a principal of Banneker Ventures, to stand down from his bid to develop property along Florida Avenue in early 2008 -- a deal under consideration by the Metro board. In exchange, the council member said he would be more inclined to support Mr. Williams' simultaneous bid for the D.C. Lottery contract, according to the report.
The Washington Times first reported the charge in May 2010, which was based on an exchange of emails between Mr. Williams and his associates and attorney.
The investigation commissioned by Metro found Mr. Graham, Ward 1 Democrat, "pitted the interests of the Council of the District of Columbia against the interests of Metro, and thereby unnecessarily created a conflict of interest, or, at the least, the appearance of a conflict of interest."
But the investigation by the ethics board went further, concluding that Mr. Graham favored another developer, D.C.-based LaKritz Adler, which had contributed to his campaign.
Mr. Graham maintained that the decision was based on professional capabilities and not personal preference, but the board found that his actions violated prohibitions in the code of conduct against giving preferential treatment to any person, losing complete independence or impartiality and affecting adversely the confidence of the public in the integrity of government.
The board also concluded that, because the matter occurred before it was created, it had no authority to sanction Mr. Graham and that a formal investigation and a notice of violation would be an "unwise use of resources."
"If the Board had the ability to sanction Council member Graham for his conduct, we would proceed with such a Notice," the report states.
The board, which held its first meeting in July, was created as part of legislative reforms intended to restore faith in city hall after scandals and ongoing criminal probes by the U.S. attorney's office. It is tasked with investigating potential ethics violations among D.C. employees and issuing rules and regulations to guide conduct among elected leaders and public officials.
Mr. Graham's attorney, William W. Taylor III, disputed the report's findings, complaining that Mr. Graham was not presented with the evidence contained in the earlier report commissioned by Metro and that he did not have the ability to present evidence in his favor. Mr. Taylor said the charge that Mr. Graham favored another developer for the Metro project was not contained in the earlier Metro report and that the council member was not given a chance to address it.
Mr. Taylor also hinted at legal action in the wake of the ethics board's report.
"We regret that the Board found it necessary or appropriate to make these observations in the course of dismissing the proceeding," Mr. Taylor said in a statement. "We are now considering our legal options."
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