WASHINGTON -- With the cooperation of the chairman of the D.C. Taxicab Commission, the FBI has charged dozens of people -- mostly taxi drivers -- with conspiring to commit bribery.
Indictments unsealed Friday allege Yitbarek Syume, 51, of Silver Spring, Md.; Berhane Leghese, 47, of Arlington, Va.; and Amanuel Ghirmazion, 53, of Hyattsville, Md., made a series of payments totaling about $220,000 to Taxicab Commission Chairman Leon Swain Jr. to secure multi-vehicle taxi company licenses, which became more valuable when the D.C. Council passed a moratorium on them a year ago.
The suspects agreed to give Swain $10,000 per license, according to court documents, but Swain blew the whistle and worked with investigators.
In addition, Syume and another 36 cab drivers also were indicted on bribery charges Thursday, acting U.S. Attorney Channing Phillips and FBI Assistant Director in Charge Joseph Persichini Jr. announced. The drivers are accused of paying bribes totaling $110,000 to get individual taxi operator licenses.
The indictments came after a two-year investigation, federal authorities said.
Last week, Ted G. Loza, the chief of staff for D.C. Councilman Jim Graham, was arrested on charges that he promoted taxicab legislation in exchange for cash. Graham is not being investigated by authorities, but the scandal has sent the media digging for dirt.