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POLITICS

Jim Graham's lawyer slams report on alleged lottery deal

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Politics,Local,DC,Alan Blinder,Gambling,D.C. Council,Jim Graham,Corruption,Ethics

A D.C. Council member's lawyer is criticizing allegations of impropriety as unfounded because of the councilman's dueling roles as a city lawmaker and a member of Metro's board.

In a 17-page memorandum to the DC Board of Ethics and Government Accountability, William Taylor III said Ward 1 Councilman Jim Graham's conduct in relation to the D.C. lottery contract and a Metro project was not unseemly.

"Even if Councilmember Graham had conditioned his support for Warren Williams Jr.'s company in the D.C. lottery contract on Williams' withdrawal from the Florida Avenue project deal, it would not be unethical," Taylor wrote. "By seeking to ensure that the publicly funded [Metro] contract ended up in trustworthy hands, Councilmember Graham acted in the public interest. Sharp-elbowed political behavior is not a violation of any District ethics provision."

Graham has been under fire for months about a May 2008 meeting with Williams, during which he allegedly offered to back Williams' bid for the District's $38 million lottery contract in exchange for his agreement to withdraw from a Metro-backed project.

Graham was serving on Metro's board of directors at the time of the conversation.

Robert Andary investigated the incident for the D.C. government, and he said in a February deposition that Graham's conduct had "overtones of pay to play."

And earlier this fall, a Metro-commissioned report accused Graham of breaking the transit agency's ethics policies.

But Graham has adamantly denied any wrongdoing, and his attorney slammed Metro's account.

"More than half of the seven participants [in the meeting] do not recall Councilmember Graham's alleged quid pro quo offer," wrote Taylor, who accused the law firm that prepared Metro's report of making "a conclusion that stretches the facts to their breaking point."

Graham's lawyers said the broader report "grossly misconstrues the events that transpired, ignores evidence that certain events did not occur at all and represents as fact the strained inferences of the author."

But Taylor told the Board of Ethics and Government Accountability, which has opened a preliminary investigation into Graham's conduct, that even if Metro's report were accurate, it would be irrelevant.

"It is not necessary to resolve those inaccuracies or differences in recollection for this board to conclude, as it should, that there is no reason to believe that Councilmember Graham committed an ethics violation," Taylor's memo said. "Even if we assume that all the facts are true, and they are not, Councilmember Graham's conduct did not violate the District of Columbia's code of conduct."

Taylor also argued that Graham's purported activities took place too long ago for the board to "hold Councilmember Graham liable for any conduct."

The city's ethics board is not the only entity investigating the lottery contract. A federal grand jury issued subpoenas earlier this year, and officials familiar with the probe say that investigation is ongoing.

ablinder@washingtonexaminer.com

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