D.C. Councilman Jim Graham facing $100 million lawsuit over contracts

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A D.C. councilman is facing a $100 million lawsuit for allegedly trying to orchestrate a backroom deal tied to the District's lottery and a development company's bid for a project on Metro-owned land.

Banneker Ventures, which Metro selected in 2008 to develop a Northwest Washington parcel of land, filed the suit against Ward 1 Councilman Jim Graham in U.S. District Court, alleging that he "actively and repeatedly engaged in bid suppression and bid rigging."

The suit also names Metro, whose board Graham once chaired, and LaKritz Adler, the development company Graham purportedly tried to help, as defendants.

The 60-page lawsuit claims that Graham offered to tie his vote on the city's lottery contract -- which a Banneker principal, Warren Williams Jr., had tentatively won -- to Banneker's agreement to abort its participation in the Metro development project.

"Graham unlawfully offered his official support as a member of the D.C. Council in the ratification of the D.C. Lottery contract in return for Williams' agreement to withdraw Banneker as the selected developer," the suit, first reported by the Washington City Paper, said.

Banneker contends that such a retreat could have benefited LaKritz Adler, a Graham campaign contributor that sought the Metro deal.

The allegations track closely with the findings of several independent investigations, including one by Metro.

Banneker, which ultimately saw its initial deal for the site on Florida Avenue evaporate, also sued Metro for its role in the dispute and said the transit agency had committed fraud and breached its contract with the developer.

Banneker also accused LaKritz Adler of conspiring with Graham and said the company "intentionally and willfully interfered" with its existing contract for the site.SClBAlthough Banneker took aim at another developer in court, it has also been the subject of criticism. A 2011 investigation found the company's decisions while working as a city contractor had led to "at the very least, considerable waste to the taxpayers."

In a statement about what he described as a "meritless" lawsuit, Graham criticized Banneker.

"Banneker lost the Metro contract because of Banneker," Graham said. "Although audacious given their dismal performance and demonstrated pattern of nonfeasance, Banneker's claims are spurious and wholly unfounded. I look forward to an early dismissal."

A Metro spokeswoman declined to discuss pending litigation, and LaKritz Adler did not respond Tuesday to a request for comment.

The lawsuit is the latest headache for Graham -- who has long denied wrongdoing -- that's linked to the development project and the lottery contract.SClBLast month, the D.C. Council voted to reprimand Graham for his conduct and curtailed his oversight authority.

The council's vote came after three investigations raised serious questions about Graham's actions, though the lawmaker has said he believes those reviews were unfair to him.

A federal grand jury is also probing the $38 million lottery contract, but Graham's attorney has said the councilman is not a target of the criminal investigation.

ablinder@washingtonexaminer.com

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Alan Blinder

Staff Reporter, D.C. City Hall
The Washington Examiner