Jun 15, 2021 - News

DIA's newly named leader connected to public corruption allegations

A headshot of Phillip Washington

Phillip Washington. Photo courtesy of the City of Denver

The Los Angeles County District Attorney's Office is looking into a complaint involving public corruption allegations against the agency previously run by Mayor Michael Hancock's pick to be Denver International Airport's new leader.

State of play: Hancock nominated Phillip Washington last week to take on the city's highest-paid charter officer position (at $266,143 a year) and succeed outgoing CEO Kim Day, who retires July 16.

  • His appointment needs approval from the Denver City Council.

Details: L.A. County DA spokesperson Greg Risling told Axios the office's Public Integrity Division is currently reviewing a matter connected to Washington's time leading the city's public transportation authority, L.A. Metro. The prosecutor's office would not say whether Washington was under investigation.

Timeline: On Feb. 18, Los Angeles County Sheriff's detectives served a search warrant at L.A. Metro's offices related to an ongoing criminal investigation, deputy sheriff John Satterfield confirmed to a local newspaper.

  • The raid came after a Metro employee whistleblower's claims of corruption, detailed in a months-long Fox 11 investigation.
  • The investigation found that L.A. Metro's sexual harassment hotline was costing taxpayers more than $8,000 per call after multiple no-bid contracts to run the service were awarded to Peace Over Violence, a charity led by a close friend and campaign donor of L.A. County Supervisor and Metro board member Sheila Kuehl.
  • Kuehl "privately pushed" for the agency to make the hire, Fox 11 reported. Kuehl's office said the hire was Washington's decision.

Flashback: Washington formerly led the Denver metro's Regional Transportation District, where he spent 16 years before leaving for California in 2015.

What they're saying: Hancock is defending his pick. "A complaint naming Phil Washington was dismissed by a federal district court judge and he is not an individually named defendant in any pending lawsuits brought by this employee," spokesperson Mike Strott told Axios. "We have no concerns about these claims and are confident they have no bearing on his qualifications, character or reputation."

  • City Council member Kevin Flynn, who chairs the council's aviation committee, echoed the mayor's office, saying that after talking directly to Washington, he learned there's "more to it than meets the eye."
  • The mayor's office declined to make Washington available for an interview.

Yes, but: In light of the criminal inquiry, at least one council member is already raising the alarm about rushing Washington's appointment.

  • "The timing of any public official's departure during an ongoing criminal investigation where the facts are not clear is certainly of concern," Council member Candi CdeBaca said in a statement. "I look forward to hearing all of the facts before making my decision."

Context: Denver voters approved a measure in November that requires City Council approval of 14 key mayoral appointees, including the head of DIA.

  • This appointment will be among the first in which the process plays out.

What's next: Washington will begin meeting with council members later this week, per Hancock's legislative director, Skye Stuart.

  • The tentative timeline calls for a final vote by the full council on July 12, she said.

This story has been updated to clarify Denver airport's CEO is the highest-paid charter officer position, not the city's highest paid position.


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