Was Leon Swain Jr. Too Good At Playing The Criminal?
In the past few weeks, City Desk and everyone else praised Taxicab Commission Chairperson Leon Swain Jr. for his starring role as a police informant. The audio evidence is pretty clear that Swain is one talented actor. David Simon needs to put Swain in his next series.
Swain performed on hours and hours of F.B.I- produced tapes for roughly two years. But is there a case to be made that maybe Swain overacted, that he was too good in the role?
We interviewed a few of the defendants accused of trying to illegally obtain taxicab licenses. They are among the more than 30 who've been charged with conspiracy to commit bribery. What did they do?
In DVDs handed out by prosecutors to defense attorneys in the past few weeks, the cabbie wannabes are shown meeting in a townhouse where Swain gives them a talk, has them fingerprinted in "his" kitchen, and then photographed. The defendants were told that this is how you obtain a license.
At the end of the process, Swain asks each man: "Do you have something for me?" or "Do you have an envelope for me?"
These envelopes contained cash. The defendants we interviewed claimed they did not know what they were handing over to Swain; they say they had been given these envelopes—marked with a D.C. Taxicab Commission stamp on the front—by alleged bribery mastermind Yitbarek Syume.
On the videos, Swain jokes with the guys, makes small talk, and generally plays the perfect host. The men just look on in confusion. I wondered how much they actually understood. In some case, they see Swain opening up the envelopes and fanning out the cash. The men look freaked out by this.
In a video recorded a few days prior to these fingerprint sessions, Swain warns Syume and a co-conspirator to keep their dealings secret. He tells them: “Get everybody situated. And then we’ll have them come down here.…Probably about 10 at a time....We don’t need this to go no further than the three of us.”
What does that mean? What does this say about what the 30 defendants knew about the bribery conspiracy?
Photo by Darrow Montgomery