October 29, 2012 | by Lou Chibbaro Jr.
Graham questions need for ethics board probe
Jim Graham, Washington, D.C., gay news, Washington Blade

D.C. Council member Jim Graham (D-Ward 1) emphasized to the Blade that “there is no suggestion in the report that any law was broken or any crime committed… .” (Washington Blade photo by Jeff Surprenant)

Gay D.C. Council member Jim Graham (D-Ward 1) says he will cooperate fully with the newly created city Board of Ethics and Government Accountability, which voted on Oct. 16 to open a preliminary investigation into whether Graham violated Council or city ethics rules.

The three-member board decided to open the preliminary probe less than a week after a separate investigation commissioned by the Metro transit agency concluded that Graham improperly mixed his Council duties with his role as a Metro board member in 2008.

The report says Graham allegedly offered to vote on the Council to approve a lucrative lottery contract for a businessman who was bidding for the lottery contract while he also was one of the principal partners of Banneker Ventures, a development company bidding on a Metro development project near the Shaw-Howard University Metro station.

In a 29-page report, a law firm that Metro hired to conduct the investigation said it found no evidence that Graham broke any law or obtained any financial benefit from his actions. Instead, the report concluded that Graham’s actions “created the appearance of a conflict of interest, if not an actual conflict of interest, in a manner that is contrary to Metro’s Standards of Conduct.”

The ethics board that announced it was opening its own preliminary probe into the matter is headed by gay former D.C. Attorney General Robert Spagnoletti. Spagnoletti told the Washington Post the board has a “responsibility” to look into allegations of possible city ethics code violations.

In a statement released to the Blade, Graham questioned the need for a second investigation, noting that Metro paid $800,000 to the law firm Cadwalader, Wickersham & Taft to conduct the earlier probe, which resulted in a detailed report.

“There is no suggestion in the report that any law was broken or any crime committed or that there was any unlawful financial interest,” Graham said.

“The report expressly finds that there was no evidence of any unlawful financial interest or financial conflict of interest,” he said.

Graham noted that the report’s conclusion of a non-financial conflict of interest or appearance of a conflict of interest is based solely on an allegation by people associated with Banneker Ventures.

The Banneker officials have said Graham told them in a private meeting at his City Council office in 2008 that he would vote on the D.C. Council for two of the principals associated with Banneker to obtain a lucrative D.C. Lottery contract if Banneker withdrew from the Metro project. The Banneker officials had a separate lottery contract bid under consideration at the time the Metro development project was being considered.

Graham has said repeatedly that he has no recollection of making such a comment. He has said he opposed Banneker’s Metro development proposal because the company didn’t have sufficient financial backing for the project. Graham said in his statement that he was proven right when Banneker, after initially winning its bid for the Metro project, withdraw from the project when it failed to obtain the financing needed to carry it out.

Spagnoletti has said that under the ethics board’s operating procedures, if it finds a “reasonable basis” that Graham violated ethics rules that apply to City Council members, a formal investigation would be opened and Graham would be allowed to defend himself before the board.

Lou Chibbaro Jr. has reported on the LGBT civil rights movement and the LGBT community for more than 30 years, beginning as a freelance writer and later as a staff reporter and currently as Senior News Reporter for the Washington Blade. He has chronicled LGBT-related developments as they have touched on a wide range of social, religious, and governmental institutions, including the White House, Congress, the U.S. Supreme Court, the military, local and national law enforcement agencies and the Catholic Church. Chibbaro has reported on LGBT issues and LGBT participation in local and national elections since 1976. He has covered the AIDS epidemic since it first surfaced in the early 1980s. Follow Lou

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