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Taxi scam, an advertising firm and a trip to El Salvador

Since federal agents raided the offices of Ted G. Loza, chief of staff to Council member Jim Graham (D-Ward 1), in September, there has been speculation about why authorities were seeking documents related to a small advertising firm and Fiesta DC, a nonprofit organization that puts on an annual Hispanic festival in Mount Pleasant.

Well, the mystery has been solved, thanks to a recently unsealed FBI affadavit seeking permission to search Loza's home and Council office.

According to an FBI affidavit made public Thursday, Loza was once a member of Fiesta DC’s board, and Graham ensured that the organization received a $100,000 Council earmark.

In 2008, Fiesta DC paid for Loza to visit El Salvador. He wanted the organization to finance Graham’s air fare, too, the FBI said in the court papers, which asked a judge to allow agents to raid Loza’s office and Northwest Washington residence.

But the group refused, saying it would be a conflict of interest to pay for Graham’s trip because the councilman already had given the group the earmark, according to the court documents.

Instead, a top Fiesta DC employee approached Jose Sanchez, the owner of Prisma Communications, a DC firm that did at least $30,000 annually in business with the group.

The employee asked Sanchez to finance the trip, the FBI documents say. Sanchez paid for Graham's air fare, the FBI alleged.That appears to be why the feds wanted to seize documents related to Prisma and Fiesta DC.

When they searched Loza’s home and office, they also sought records involving potential financial transactions involving Graham, Loza and an undercover FBI informant, Abdulaziz Kamus, court records show.

Graham said Thursday that he knew that a private company had paid for the trip. But the firm, to his knowledge, did not have business with the D.C. government. “I am innocent of any wrongdoing,” Graham said. He added that he would be happy to reimburse Prisma.

Loza has been charged with accepting $1,500 in payoffs from Kamus, the FBI informant, to push legislation that would have benefited some in the taxi industry. Graham is chairman of a committee that oversees such issues.

So far, 40 people, including Loza, have been arrested in the case. The others are all people involved in the taxi industry.

The affidavit and another, seeking to search the home of former D.C. Taxi Commission chairman Causton Toney, provide interesting reading and are the most detailed account yet of what transpired during a two-year federal investigation of alleged corruption in the D.C. cab industry. Check out the documents and the story I wrote about them in today’s Post.

Here are the affidavits:
lozaaffidavit.pdf

caustontoney.pdf

-- Del Quentin Wilber

By Del Wilber  |  November 20, 2009; 10:50 AM ET
Categories:  Del Quentin Wilber , From the Courthouse , The District  
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