City Desk

Breaking: Read the Taxicab Indictments; Suspects Tried To Bribe Leon Swain Jr.

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 commissionLeon 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.

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  • Angry Al Gonzales

    Wow. This is the major bust my friends at the US Atty office were talkin' 'bout - I thought it was the Barry Crew. Or is the Barry Crew next?

    27 freaking arrests ... man. Is that a record for the Little Old District?

  • Outraged

    At least they didn't conspire to beat a woman into submission in order to coerce her into murdering a viable fetus.

  • Thom

    I'm a little confused. Was Swain in in on this or just sucking then in deeper? Has Swain been indicted?

  • Post AWOL

    Everyone at the WaPo must be enroute to a salon, they still don't have the story! Great work on this City Paper!

  • Downtown Rez


  • Fred

    Yes, I must grudgingly congratulate the investigative team at CP for this story (although truth be told, I wish I could muster up more enthusiasm for it...I just don't care as much as I feel like I should). I always complain about them, but this time, it looks like they're doing good.

    I will just relate what a recent cab driver told me on our way downtown. He said that this guy who went undercover to bust Loza did so only because the guy who was in charge of implementing the medallion system here, or pushing it, someone named Solomon my cab driver said, was responsible for tearing apart Atlanta's cab system, and he did not want to see the same thing happen here. No idea if it's true or not, but this is what comments sections are for.

  • concernedaboutdc

    Yank their business licenses, try them, and if guilty imprison them then deport them.

  • creativemeat

    Did anyone see Jim Graham on the local news being interviewed on Columbia Rd. The reporter asked if he has every been offered a bribe. Jim Graham said "I have never accepted a bribe." Then the reporter said that's not what I asked, I asked if you have ever been offered a bribe. And Jim Graham said he can't talk about it.

    So basically our elected council member was offered a bribe at someo point but didn't report it. That's pretty shady in my book.

  • Fred

    Yes it is. But don't you think EVERY politician has been offered bribes they did not report?

  • Truth Hurts

    @ Fred: I don't believe that every politician has been offered a bribe they didn't report. If you're right, however, every such politician belongs in jail. Government corruption undermines everything.

  • Johnny

    Both the Washington Post and the Washington Times are out to lunch on this scandal. If these guys are convicted, they should be deported by to their African country. The can take Jim Graham with them. I am sure Jim Graham will find him some young African men to sleep with. Opps, I forgot, African men are too dark for Jim Graham. Jim Graham like's Salvadoran/Central American men with light skin and an exotic look to satisfy his sexual needs.

  • Johnny


    Both the Washington Post and the Washington Times are out to lunch on this scandal. If these guys are convicted, they should be deported back to their African country. They can take Jim Graham with them. I am sure Jim Graham will find him some young African men to sleep with. Opps, I forgot, African men are too dark for Jim Graham. Jim Graham like’s Salvadoran/Central American men with light skin and a exotic look to satisfy his sexual needs.

  • Downtown Rez

    Truth Hurts: I do suppose that everyone who is anyone in DC has been offered a bribe. But they can be subtle things. I've several times come away from an encounter thinking "was that what I think?..."
    And, IMO, it's not always "worth" reporting these, standards of proof being what they are in our great society. I'm guessing Loza didn't get to the money part without being tested for his reaction before hand.

  • Truth hurts

    Downtown Rez: I'm not trying to pick a fight here. My point is simply this: if someone overtly offers a bribe to a city official, then that official has a duty to report it. In a "was that what I think it was?" situation, the official ought to be on guard for more overt gestures. And I'm guessing your guess about Loza being tested first is right. He obviously flunked the test by not walking away. I have no tolerance for government corruption, none.

  • Sandra “S.S.” Seegars

    Thom, it’s interesting that you would wonder about Swain being on the wrong side of the law, because this story depicts Abdulaziz Kamus as a briber who became an informant to lessen his charges. I believe Swain is clean in this one. I was a Taxicab Commissioner from 11/99 to 6/06. In my first couple of months, I had some bribers arrested. Bribers will try anyone. I am sure there are many more involved in bribery in the taxicab industry, but I am afraid that the FBI will not get them all. I know the majority of the persons involved in this episode, and I am truly surprised that they would spend that kind of money taking a chance on losing everything they have. In some cases, they may be deported.

  • Downtown rez

    Agreed, TH. Free rides escalate to free trips escalate to free cash. Anything more than a cup of coffee among old friends is potential trouble.

  • Fred


  • IMGoph

    as a kind of aside, i was on 14th street nw yesterday evening (near P street) when i saw a cab with virginia plates with what was clearly a forfeit 'official' taxicab sticker (here's a picture of an official one). the font and size of the sticker were all wrong, and i'm certain that, in order to be an officially licensed DC cab, you have to have DC plates, correct?

  • Fred

    Mr. Graham has to go. Resign now.

    I can't understand how the same people in DC who think that Mr. Barry is so corrupt find it so easy to make excuses for Mr. Graham. Bottom line: Mr. Graham has exhibited poor judgement in his hiring of Mr. Loza, given the weird personal relationship he seems to have with this individual.

  • Downtown rez

    People criticize Barry for his policies and crimes.
    At this point there is no evidence that Loza was acting on Graham's behalf- no proof that Graham is did anything worse than misplace his trust.