"My Mother Didn't Raise Me That Way"

DC Taxicab Commission Chairman was never tempted to take bribes

By Tom Sherwood
|  Monday, Oct 5, 2009  |  Updated 7:45 PM EDT
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AG Peter Nickles on Taxi Investigation

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All hail Leon Swain!

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Cab Commissioner Speaks Out In Corruption Case

Hear from the DC Taxicab official who worked undercover for two years to bring down a bribery scheme.

Taxicab Commission Chair Talks Probe

Taxicab Commission Chairman Leon Swain Jr. discusses what he can about the investigation with AG Peter Nickles by his side.
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WASHINGTON -- In taking down an alleged bribery scheme, the chairman of the D.C. Taxicab Commission says he was just doing his job.

Dozens of people, including a D.C. councilman's chief of staff and many cab drivers, were indicted in the sprawling bribery scheme after Leon Swain cooperated with undercover police for two years.

"It's a cash market, and I think that's the most important thing people need to understand about taxicabs," said Swain, 57. "It's a cash-and-carry market. People think that all cab drivers are corrupt, but they're not. We have a lot of very, very good cab drivers."

Indictments unsealed Friday allege Yitbarek Syume, 51, of Silver Spring, Md.; Berhane Leghese, 47, of Arlington, Va.; and Amanuel Ghirmazion, 53, of Hyattsville, Md., paid $10,000 per license -- a total of about $220,000 -- to Swain in order to secure multi-vehicle taxi company licenses, which became more valuable when the D.C. Council passed a moratorium on them a year ago. In addition, Syume and another 36 cab drivers also were indicted on charges they paid bribes totaling $110,000 to get individual taxi operator licenses.

A week earlier, 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.

The bribes started almost as soon as Swain took the job two years ago. Swain said he was never tempted to take the money.

"I met with about 400 cab drivers and I told them, 'Don't bring me any money. Don't bring me any liquor. Don't bring me any women. Don't bring me any tickets,'" Swain said. "I guess they looked at me and figured, you know, 'He's from Ward 8.' Something like that. 'Maybe he will, maybe he won't.' But the thing about it is, my mother didn't raise me that way."

Swain helped Mayor Adrian Fenty implement the meter system that the public likes but many taxi drivers hate.

D.C. Attorney General Peter Nickles called Swain a good role model for any city worker.

Referring to the property tax scam, Nickles said, "This city lost $50 million, and it lost it because no one stood up for the city. No one stood up for what was right.

"And he is a standup guy and a hero, because when he heard about things that didn't sound right to him, he didn't go about his day-to-day business."

Swain shook off any notion that he's a hero, saying he's just a good man from Ward 8 who stood up to corruption.

Swain is getting police protection as the case moves forward.

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