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D.C. ethics board opens Graham probe

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Local,DC,Liz Farmer

D.C.'s newly minted ethics board voted unanimously Tuesday to open a preliminary investigation into Ward 1 D.C. Councilman Jim Graham following a report that he broke Metro's own rules while serving as chair of the transit agency's board.

Board of Ethics and Accountability Chairman Robert Spagnoletti told The Washington Examiner that the preliminary investigation would "gather information to determine whether the code of conduct has been violated." If enough evidence is found, the board would then open a full investigation with public hearings -- including testimony from Graham, Spagnoletti said.

He added the board "at any stage" is empowered to make referrals to a U.S. attorney.

The vote came after an independent review commissioned by the Metro board last week said Graham went too far when he used a land deal for a Metro property to sway a lottery contract with the District. Graham, a longtime Metro board member who also chaired the board in 2009, tried to pressure some local businessmen who sought the District's unrelated lottery contract to drop their bid for a Metro land redevelopment contract, the report written by the law firm Cadwalader, Wickersham & Taft, found.

Graham pressured Banneker Ventures to back out of the bid to redevelop Metro property on Florida Avenue Northwest near U Street and Georgia Avenue on the condition that he would support some of Banneker members' quest to win a lucrative lottery contract from the city, the report said. The land, which was located in the ward Graham represents, was ultimately awarded to another group for $10.2 million when the deal with Banneker Ventures fell apart in March 2010. But the land remains undeveloped.

Graham violated Metro's board policies at the time by creating a conflict of interest, however he did not benefit financially from his role, according to the report.

lfarmer@washingtonexaminer.com

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