Jim Graham violated code of conduct over land deal, review finds

Jim Graham. (Photo courtesy Jim Graham)

WASHINGTON (AP/ABC7) - A D.C. councilmember violated the code of conduct of Washington's Metro transit system when he tried to barter a Metro real estate project with a contract being considered by the council, an independent review has found.

The report released Thursday does not allege any criminal activity by Councilmember Jim Graham, although its authors are cooperating with federal law enforcement officials who are investigating the city's lottery contract.

Graham issued a detailed rebuttal to the findings in the report on Friday. He also stresses Metro stated it found "no evidence of motivation based upon pecuniary interests." In other words, Graham did not act for financial gain.

According to the report, Graham committed "a clear violation" of Metro's standards of conduct when he offered to support a developer's bid for the lottery contract in exchange for the developer's withdrawal from a project around a Metro station.

Graham, a Ward 1 Democrat, served on the Metro board when he made the offer during a 2008 meeting with developer Warren Williams. The offer was rejected by Williams and his partners in the lottery bid. Ultimately, the D.C. Council rejected the lottery contract, and the Metro project was never built.

“If in fact I did say that--four people don't recall it, and the report itself states that the content was ‘unclear’--then it was an offhand remark at the very end of an hour long meeting,” Graham says in his rebuttal.

Graham disputed the report's finding that he violated Metro board standards but said its conclusions did not especially trouble him.

"I'm pleased that there was no allegation or suggestion of any criminal behavior or any unlawful financial interest," Graham told The Associated Press. He noted that Metro's general counsel had previously reached the same conclusion. Graham ultimately voted in favor of the Metro project, although he voted against the lottery contract.

But Graham has come close to crime and scandal before. His former chief of staff pleaded guilty last year to federal charges stemming from a bribery sting. Earlier this year, the inspector general cited Graham in an investigation into improprieties in awarding a lottery contract.

The report, prepared by the law firm Cadwalader, Wickersham & Taft, found that Graham's actions created a conflict of interest between his work on the board and the council, and that he violated his obligation to act in the public interest in contractual matters.

The Washington Area Metropolitan Transit Authority board revised its code of ethics last year in an attempt to avoid conflicts of interest or the appearance thereof, and the report may lead to further changes, Board Chair Catherine Hudgins said in a statement.

"With the release of this report, WMATA has taken an important step forward in its ongoing commitment to openness, transparency and being fully accountable for our actions," Hudgins said.

The price tag for Metro's investigation into his behavior was $800,000.

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