If D.C. Councilman Jim Graham thought he was off the hook after his reprimand from colleagues last month for his violation of the council's ethics rules, he was mistaken. Last week, Graham was named in a $100 million federal lawsuit over his alleged interference with a Metro land deal and the city's $38 million lottery contract while serving as chairman of the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority.
In the eight-count lawsuit, filed March 25 in U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, Rockville-based developer Banneker Ventures LLC accuses Graham, two of his campaign contributors, and WMATA of "a civil conspiracy" to torpedo its retail/residential project on Metro-owned land on Florida Avenue.
Metro is accused of breach of contract for allowing Graham to "unlawfully, maliciously and purposefully" interfere with Banneker's contract to develop the site.
Banneker claims it gave WMATA $200,000 for exclusive negotiating rights (which was never returned) and was already in the process of lining up financing when Graham used his influence to modify the contract terms in an attempt to benefit LaKritz Adler - a competing firm owned by two of his campaign contributors. LaKritz Adler had lost out to Banneker in the year-long competitive bidding process.
The lawsuit further alleges that Graham involved D.C. Chief Financial Officer Natwar Gandhi and various WMATA board and staff members "in his illegal bid suppression and bid rigging scheme" -- a charge that Banneker owner Omar Karim had made in a previous interview with The Washington Examiner.
Graham's repeated assertions that all he was doing was harmless legislative "horse trading" are rebutted by specific and detailed allegations. For example, Graham requested that an April 24, 2008 WMATA Board committee meeting, in which Banneker's bid was scheduled to be approved, be held in executive session, where Graham attempted to discredit the company.
That same day, the lawsuit alleges, Graham made an unprecedented motion to defer Banneker's approval for 60 days, during which time he tried to pressure Karim to add LaKritz Adler to his development team. When that didn't work, Graham attempted to pressure then-principal Warren Williams, Jr. into withdrawing Banneker from the Metro contract in return for Graham's help with the lottery contract.
The basic facts of this "sordid quid pro quo" have already been unearthed by three separate investigations, but Graham has not had to answer for any of them. This time, he might not be so lucky.