Denver airport nominee directly mentioned in L.A. search warrants

Denver Mayor Michael Hancock’s nominee to be the next Denver International Airport CEO is mentioned by name in search warrants served by Los Angeles County deputies and by a grand jury complaint alleging bribery, fraud and a pay-to-play scheme at his old agency in California.

Those mentions directly contradict a statement from Hancock’s office Tuesday that Phil Washington, who led the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority for several years, had not been named in a warrant. The mayor’s office did not immediately return a request for comment Friday on the new documents, nor has it provided information about the city’s background-check process or Washington’s references.

The Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department has an ongoing criminal investigation into the L.A. Metro and a nonprofit that it hired as part of an apparent no-bid contract. Washington, who previously headed the Regional Transit District in the Denver metro area, ran the L.A. public transit agency from 2015 to this May.

L.A. Metro and Denver officials who support Washington say the investigation is a politically motivated smear campaign by Los Angeles Sheriff Alex Villanueva, and that Washington is caught in the middle.

Additional documents obtained by The Denver Post, and first reported by Axios Denver, give more insight into the nature of the allegations.

A complaint filed in June 2020 to a Los Angeles County civil grand jury claims L.A. Metro leadership and city and county officials are corrupt and abusing their power. That complaint, filed by self-described whistleblower Jennifer Loew, mentions Washington in connection with “bribery, conspiracy, pay to play, fraud, waste.”

Loew’s attorney could not immediately be reached to verify the grand jury complaint or search warrants provided to the Post.

Earlier this week, Hancock spokesman Mike Strott said Washington is “not the subject of any criminal or grand jury investigation, nor is he named in any criminal warrant.”

While the June 2020 complaint does not necessarily mean the grand jury is investigating the nominee, search warrants served in February do mention Washington.

Specifically, the warrants seek any “recordings, memos, notes, messages, or other communications” between Washington and Patricia Giggans and Sheila Kuehl, among others.

Giggans is executive director of Peace Over Violence, the nonprofit hired by the L.A. Metro; she also sits on a citizen oversight board that called for Villanueva’s resignation last September. Kuehl is a L.A. County supervisor, a member of the L.A. Metro board, an ally of Giggans and also called for the sheriff’s resignation.

L.A. Metro attorneys are fighting against the warrants in court, calling them “ill-conceived” and “legally-flawed.” Dave Sotero, a spokesman for L.A. Metro, said in a statement that the complaints and accusations come from a disgruntled employee.

“The agency is not aware of any improprieties related to the awarding of any of these contracts,” Sotero said. “The Los Angeles Sheriff is seeking records related to that contract, which is with an organization headed by a woman who sits on the Los Angeles County Civilian Oversight Commission and has been highly critical of the Sheriff’s Department.”

Under Washington’s watch at RTD, a senior manager was sentenced to 18 months in prison for taking up to $145,000 in bribes over six years. Washington was named as a witness in that federal case, but no complaints or allegations were filed against him personally.

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