Judge Nixes Evidence for Taxi Conspiracy Trial


     (CN) - Federal prosecutors may not be able to introduce certain evidence that they hope will help convict the former chief of staff for a Washington, D.C., councilman of charges that he conspired to dominate district's taxicab industry.
     Ted Giovanny Loza, former chief of staff for District of Columbia Councilman Jim Graham, is currently on trial for conspiracy, bribery, extortion and making false statements. On Friday, U.S. District Judge Paul Friedman rejected Loza's request for a pretrial hearing, noting that he would defer ruling on the admissability of statements that implicate Loza in the conspiracy.
     The government had hoped to introduce evidence of Loza's criminal history, but Friedman rejected the request on Thursday saying that the evidence would be inadmissible unless Loza opens the door to it at trial. Loza was indicted on Jan. 25 for conspiring to dominate the District of Columbia taxicab industry by improperly influencing the district's legislative and executive government branches.
     In October 2007, the district adopted a new meter system to determine taxi drivers' pay rates and limit the number of cabs operating in the district. Loza's co-conspirators hoped to bribe the chair of the District of Columbia Taxicab Commission and officials like Loza in exchange for preferential licensing. The co-conspirators allegedly hoped to acquire several licenses before the commission set a moratorium on licensing that would make the licenses even more valuable.

     Prosecutors will be able to introduce evidence that Loza had accepted an all-expenses-paid trip to Ethiopia in the summer of 2004 since Loza withdrew his challenge on that count, according to the ruling.
     But Loza refused to back down on allowing the government to discuss his alleged acceptance in 2009 of bribe consisting of $200 and a piece of luggage. He also challenged the government's attempt to bring up apparently inadequate financial disclosure forms from 2004, 2007 and 2009.
     The value of such evidence fails to outweigh the danger it poses in causing unfair prejudice to Loza, Friedman found. Prosecutors had argued that the evidence serves a legitimate a purpose besides calling Loza's character into question.
     "The court will, however, consider admitting this evidence in rebuttal - or on cross-examination of the defendant if he testifies - 'but only if the defendant brings into question' his intent, knowledge or the absence of mistake regarding the alleged bribes," Friedman wrote.