Taxi Bribery Case: Syume on Tape Threatening FBI Informant
UPDATE, 6:50 P.M.: LL here. This much is clear: Leon Swain is an amazing informant.
On Sept. 25, he wore a recording device, along with FBI agent John McNair, while meeting with alleged bribery ringleader Yitbarek Syume. The tape was played today in Magistrate Judge Deborah A. Robinson's courtroom during a hearing on whether Syume should be jailed pending trial.
Context was this: The day prior, D.C. Council aide Ted Loza had been arrested, exposing an ongoing federal investigation into taxicab-related bribes, and named in a Washington Post story as a stool pigeon in that bust was Abdulaziz Kamus—a Ethiopian community leader supposedly in thick as thieves with Syume and his crew. Syume read the WaPo article, by Del Quentin Wilber, and brought a printout of the story to a meeting with his "accomplice," Taxicab Commission honcho Swain. Tagging along was Swain's "nephew"—aka McNair. It took place in a parking lot near commission headquarters in Anacostia.
First words out of Swain's mouth to Syume: "What the fuck happened?....I thought this was your boy!"
He's apparently talking about Kamus. From there, Swain went on to sell LL that there was no way he was in with the feds. Now LL's courtroom stenography skills are not stellar (the U.S. Attorney's Office says it will be providing copies of the tape early tomorrow), but here is what he was able to pick up:
—Syume saying that he had spoken to Kamus, who had told him, "He said no. He didn't do this, he said."
—Swain tells Syume: "'Graham is still OK. But Teddy..." He goes on to say the following: "Kamus got Graham moving to do that Ethiopian deal he put out there."
—Syume says, "We don't know anything." Swain says, "We don't know shit!"
—The name "Tony" or "Toney" is all over the tape. This is almost certainly a reference to Causton Toney, Swain's predecessor on the Taxi Commission. Says Swain at one point, "Toney is OK. Toney knows about the stuff with Kamus." Later, Swain asks, "Where's Toney?" Syume says, "Nobody knows." Later Swain adds, "I know Toney knows about all these companies and all this other shit." Says Syume, "I know he knows."
—Swain tries to gauge his own vulnerability with Syume. He tells him, "I hear rumors you were pissed at me and you were going to take me out." Says Syume, "Oh, no, trust me."
—Swain, amazingly, convinces Syume to continue on with the scam. He tells him, "We'll do that class next Thursday or Friday." That's a reference to a fake "class" the feds set up to capture drivers offering bribes for hack licenses. Those busts indeed happened last Friday. Syume was arrested the same day.
—Swain ends the conversation saying, "I'll be as strong as you are." That's when Syume mentions "eliminating" Kamus; Swain talks about getting him "off the face of this earth." Syume assures him: "We will know soon; they will come to him."
OK, the matter at hand: Will Syume be jailed pending trial? Unclear: Robinson continued the hearing after prosecutor John Crabb noted that in prior telephone conversations (one of "thousands" recorded, Crabb said) that Syume had threatened to "put a bullet in Mr. Kamus' head" and had made "veiled-type threats" against Swain. Tomorrow, Crabb is expected to present those tapes. In an initial ruling, Robinson held that Syume's risk of flight alone wasn't enough to keep him jailed. She'll give a final ruling tomorrow afternoon, once she gives hears evidence on whether Syume is a "danger to the community."
ORIGINAL POST: Today, Mike DeBonis is reporting live from U.S. District Court where the issue of taxicab bribery defendant Yitbarek Syume's threats are being aired and debated. This afternoon, prosecutors played a tape of Syume talking with Leon Swain Jr. (pictured) and an undercover F.B.I. agent.
Syume is alleged to have discussed killing off Abdulaziz Kamus. Kamus is the Ethiopian bigwig turned FBI informant who allegedly bribed Councilmember Jim Graham's chief of staff Ted Loza.
On the tape, Swain does most of the talking. Syume mentions a name that is slowly becoming a player in this scandal: former head of the taxicab commission Causton Toney. Syume says Toney knows all about this. Swain expresses much concern about Toney.
Prosecutors allege that on the tape Syume says that "The one [Kamus] will be eliminated. You'll see...eliminated soon. Don't worry. Permanently eliminated."
According to court records [PDF], prosecutors state that their source asked when Kamus would be killed. Syume is alleged to have replied: "They will come to me. I will tell you."
Prosecutors argued in court documents: "This suggests that the defendant had solicited others in his efforts to harm the cooperating witness. The defendant also encouraged the source to destroy evidence. He instructed him to 'crash the computer' on which existed evidence of defendant's crimes."
Toney's house was raided last Friday by federal agents. Toney is a partner with Syume in UFM and Jet Cab. He has not been charged in this case.
The tape was made at about 10 a.m., the day after Loza was arrested, in a parking lot along Martin Luther King Jr. Avenue SE near the Taxicab Commission's office.