City Desk

D.C. Taxi Probe: Who Are These People?

Abdul KamusDetails are still fairly scarce as the federal taxicab investigation develops, but this much is clear: Most of those targeted are members of the East African community.

First came revelations that the man who bribed D.C. Council aide Ted Loza was none other than Abdul Kamus (pictured), a man this paper once hailed as the "de facto leader of D.C.’s Ethiopian community." Kamus' links to Loza's boss, Ward 1 Councilmember Jim Graham, are deep.

From the 2004 WCP article by Jonathan O'Connell:

On Sept. 16, [2004,] Kamus held a press conference in front of Dukem, a U Street Ethiopian restaurant, to request better police protection for African-owned businesses on the thoroughfare....At 1:30 p.m., a cream-colored Volkswagen Beetle convertible pulled up and Ward 1 Councilmember Jim Graham emerged, sporting a slight sunburn.

Graham had just returned from a five-week trip to Ethiopia, for which Kamus had arranged his travel and lodging. Graham, as well as his director of multicultural policy and community relations, Ted Loza, had spent the trip gathering a better understanding of Ethiopian culture. Upon following Kamus to the podium, Graham said “Tena yestelgn”—a greeting in Amharic, Ethiopia’s primary language. Kamus and the restaurant owners beamed.

Recently, Loza said he had never heard from an African-immigrant advocate before Kamus arrived. “He came to D.C., he asked the right questions, and [he] isn’t afraid to ask,” Loza said.

Kamus’ lobbying of Graham has paid off in big ways for the Ethiopian community. In March, after Metro fired about 30 Ethiopian parking-lot attendants after discovering millions of dollars in parking revenue was missing, Kamus complained to Graham, a Metro board member. Graham forcefully defended the fired Ethiopians at a press conference.

With Graham’s support, Kamus has tackled a variety of issues related to Ethiopian welfare in D.C. One of his greatest accomplishments was the April passage of the Language Access Act. Submitted by Graham, the law requires the city to provide translation services in Amharic. Kamus has since lobbied for the city to create a mayoral commission to serve the African refugee community, noting that the mayor currently has an nine-member Office on Latino Affairs and a five-member Office on Asian and Pacific Islander Affairs.

Since then, Kamus (pronounced CAH-moo) has maintained his preeminent place in the city's Ethiopian culture. And, with taxi driving being a central part of that culture, it's no surprise he'd have a hand in that business.

Then there's Yitbarek Syume, who owns and operates both Jet Cab and United Fleet Management, a company that installs taximeters and does mechanic and body work for independent drivers. That outfit was named last week in a search warrant served to search Loza's office. This afternoon, LL stopped by UFM's headquarters in Eckington to find the premises vacant save for a single mechanic, who said Syume had left for the day.

But these business connections aren't exclusively Ethiopian: Washington Post reporter Del Wilber reports this afternoon that 'FBI agents Friday morning raided the home of Causton Toney in Northwest Washington, according to a law enforcement source.'

Toney, a D.C. Taxi Commission chair, is a partner with Syume in UFM and Jet Cab. He has not been charged.

File photo by Darrow Montgomery

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  • Truth Hurts

    Poor captioning, LL. You know better. Stay away from ethnic catch phrases; they diminish your reporting.

  • Daddy Grace FIsh Sandwich

    Um ok I'm getting that regarding this taxi cab nonsense the City Paper is like kid in your 5th grade who won't put his hand down cause he knows all the answers.

    But LL can we get some other relevant news coverage? Several DC Public Schools teachers were OFFICIALLY laid-off on Friday.

  • Angry Al Gonzales

    Capitalism is bad; Government is good. One year ago the thieving gamblers on Wall Street & in the City of London almost plunged the entire globe into a Second Great Depression. Government intervention saved everyone's bacon, Uncle Sam to the rescue.

    As it is, we're in the Great Recession. No jobs.

    Pres. Obama & the Democrats need to ram though a jobs program like the CCC & the WPA, build infrastructure like the TVA throughout the country, high-speed rail, restore natural wetlands around New Orleans & throughout the country, etc., all with paychecks from Uncle Sam to the workers. If they do that, the Democrats will hold power for 40 years, just like the coalition FDR put together.

    Capitalism bad; Government good. Uncle Sam is our only hope. Help us, Uncle Sam, you're our only hope.

  • Thom

    Keep it up Mike, great coverage. Pay no attention to Daddy Grace Graham Sandwich, WaPo is all over the teacher thing but for whatever "WaPo reason" is burying this story.
    Graham deserves comeupance more then anyone for his years of malfeasance at WWC and the Council.

  • Pingback: Three Ethiopians Accused Of Taxi Bribery at Tadias Magazine

  • Steve

    I'm gald you are shining the spotlight on fraud. But the title of your article is offensive. Would you ever see something like:

    "So, who are all these African-Americans?"
    "So, who are all these Hispanics?"

    Seriously dissapointed with the title.

  • SoCali

    So it seems these ethiopians funneled 300K to the Chairman of the Taxi Commission but thought it prudent to only come forth with like 1500.00 in the direction of the Councilmember responsible for the enabling legislation. Something does not compute!

    Did Graham show his face at AIDS Walk?

  • MeatEater

    If this is how they handle their political issues, I fear how they handle the meat in their restaurants. Lock up your housepets!

  • PC Police

    Steve, you're overreacting. A fairer comparison would be something like "Who are all these Russians?" or "Who are all these Greeks?".

    I don't see the offense, unless "Ethiopian" is some kind of slur.

  • Fox=CNN

    PC Police = MeatEater...Same bigot. Common knowledge, stereotyping minority groups is done for negative effect, unlike stereotyping Westerners who are personified as family oriented, even when playing mobsters.

  • Absurdity Police

    So, calling an Ethiopian an "Ethiopian" is bigotry? What *should* they be called? How is that stereotyping? All the restaurants marketing themselves as Ethiopian are using a racist term? Get a grip, this is absurd.

  • monkeyrotica

    Once AGAIN, the City Paper falls for the cover story that the taxi scam is about Ethiopians, when anyone who's ever been to Eritrea will recognize these names as Swedish. More importantly, why the f**k is it that every time I step into a cab in this town, some friggin muppet driver yells at me, "Bork, bork, bork?" Learn to speak American, motherf**ker! It's bad enough that they've practically made U Street "Little Oslo" and you can't swing a dead Bergman without hitting a chafing dish full of smorgasbord. Don't get me wrong. I love to do shots of aquavit and play chess with Death on a beach just like the next guy, but isn't the market fairly saturated with places to get smoked haddock and pickled herring and freaking lutefisk? I swear, if it isn't those goddamned meatballs it's the Bavarian Illuminati and all those cream horns.

  • Truth Hurts

    I was the first commenter on this story. I felt that DeBonis composed a poor caption for an important issue, and that it would divert attention from his good reporting. Judging by the back and forth among commenters since then, it seems I was right.

  • Redboarding

    Hang on, Truth, you never said anything about diverting attention in your original post. Saying you were right about that now is a huge redboard.

  • Truth Hurts

    Redboarding: In my first post, I said that it was "poor captioning" and that using ethnic catch phrases diminished DB's reporting. I don't see how that's inconsistent with my last post, which didn't purport to quote the initial one. Don't know what a redboard is, so I can't respond to that accusation.

  • Thom

    Okay, three questions!

    1) Who was the provider of the $3200.00 third term abortion of convenience performed against the mother's will?

    2) Can we rationally believe that the taxi lobby slushed $300,000.00 in cash to the Chair of the Taxi Commission and a meere $1500.00 to a staff member of the Councilmember who in the end introduced the enabling legislation?

    3) Did Jim Graham, a gay Councilmember who did not appear at the Marriage Convocation, show his face at AIDS Walk, the primary fundraiser of the organization he headed for years?

  • Mike DeBonis

    OK, LL has changed the title of the post. It was indeed ill-advised (not to mention poor SEO).

  • Dawit

    This is great insensitivity. Who're all these Ethiopians? It's always such generalities that help widen cultural gaps. Ethiopians in the DC area are business men, doctors, engineers and yes, cap drivers. The title brings back sad but effective tactics deployed many immigrant groups through the history of America. It's sad we're seeing such language at a time when African American is in the oval office.

  • Fox=CNN

    Well done Mike DeBonis! To listen to others and explain or correct one's errors, big or small, is a virtue long lost in today's divisive society. You are a true journalist, with all the integrity others lack.

  • Redboarding

    Redboard = to claim to have predicted an outcome after the fact (and with no evidence of the prediction being made before the fact).

    You said you were right about the caption diverting attention from the topic at hand (after the fact). Your original post said nothing about diverting attention.

  • Truth Hurts

    Redboarding: Thanks for the clarification. I see how you could've misinterpreted my posts by just skimming them. Read my second post carefully. I said that when I first commented on this story,"I felt" that the poor caption would divert attention from good reporting. In fact, I did feel that way. I wrote in my first post that the caption diminished DB's reporting. Perhaps you're a more talented wordsmith than me. But I don't view the substance of those two comments as constituting "redboarding". But I thank you for adding a new word to my vocabulary.

  • getu

    I wonder where this bribery thing is going to take us. is it towardes our own millionar taxicab insurance owner? I hope some would examine his past history from Atlanta.

  • Agona

    This is just mind-boggling! At a time when the FBI is supposed to be strapped for resources and letting the likes of AIG rob the country in blind, why the focus on a group of people that are struggling to make ends meet. All wrong doing should be exposed and fought; however, I believe the investigation should have focused more on the big shots you have made a living bending the rules and bribing city counsel folks around the country. I really do hate it when justice always seems to come down very hard on those you can defend themselves the least.

  • Korrupt

    But the fact is those involved are predominantly East African. To steal a line from an old movie "But you are in that chair Blanche, you are!"

  • Korrupt

    Forgot to add: keep up the coverage City Paper. As we all can see the WaPo is sweeping this under the rug.

  • Eyangalele BeDC

    Hopefully the wonderful job done by FBI will continue to trace so many irregularites and bribes in the taxi industry and save the hard working taxi cub driver who life is daily at stake and risk while running the wheel every risky night. Bribing and taking the bussiness from the hard working class is a sin and enthical and shame too. But I would like to say Kudus and thank you for the great job done by our great FBI people and request to do more. Believe me the more you investigate the more you will find them. I also believe the UCDC tax commision test had been stolen and many people passed recently.

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  • Jay Apple

    No complaints from the Ethiopian community when trying to rename 9th and U streets to Little Ethiopia. Now they are caught stealing "doing what they do best" and want to be distant from the very name they display at the expense of African Americans.

  • Pingback: Ex-aide to Jim Graham faces more charges in cab industry probe at Tadias Magazine

  • Mary

    So I am reading the part about Abdul Kamus and here are his crimes reported by the article:

    |He lobbied for better police protection for African businesses. Oh what a horrible and corrupt person he is!!

    He arranged for a trip for a local politician to go to Ethiopia(that bastion of wealth) so he can better understand his constituents- Wow! Imagine that? Whose ever heard of politicians traveling to foreign countries?

    He lobbied for 30 parking lot attendants and the Ethiopian community won "in a big way" because Graham defended them in a press conference. Come ON! We are talking about PARKING LOT ATTENDANTS , not some big shot drug dealers or rich businesses say like wall street firms. Guess it is a crime to stand up for parking lot attendants, but not for the big banks who fleeced the nation