Denver airport CEO nominee’s former agency in L.A. under criminal investigation

Months before Denver Mayor Michael Hancock announced that he wanted Phil Washington to take over as CEO of Denver International Airport, detectives searched the offices of the Los Angeles transit agency Washington ran as part of a “criminal investigation” into an apparent no-bid contract.

Denver City Council members now want to question Washington before voting whether to confirm him as the city’s top-paid employee in charge of one of the state’s major economic drivers.

Councilwoman Amanda Sawyer said she wants to give Washington a chance to address members of the public that he would be serving as head of the airport, as well as ask him about his time as CEO of the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority. Washington is a known entity in Denver, having been CEO of the Regional Transportation District from 2009 to 2015; he also led the Biden administration’s transportation transition team.

Representatives for the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department confirmed to The Denver Post that the search warrants had been served as part of an ongoing criminal investigation, but declined to comment further. Representatives of the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office said its Public Integrity Division was reviewing “a complaint … involving Mr. Washington,” but that the sheriff’s department was investigating.

Hancock is aware of the claims, spokesman Mike Strott said, but called them baseless.

Washington “is not the subject of any criminal or grand jury investigation, nor is he named in any criminal warrant,” Strott said in an email. “Authorities in Los Angeles have confirmed with our office that these allegations are completely unfounded.”

Hancock administration officials did not immediately say which authorities told them the allegations are unfounded. They also provided a statement from Washington, which said: “All of these untrue allegations stem from one L.A. Metro employee whose supervisory responsibilities were taken away after an independent investigation.

“She has organized a well-orchestrated attempt to assassinate my character and reputation by alleging untrue things that involved programs that she herself managed.”

An L.A. Metro representative said the agency is looking into the case but could not immediately comment further.

An September 2020 investigation by Fox 11 in Los Angeles showed L.A. Metro gave a nonprofit called Peace Over Violence a no-bid contract to run a sexual harassment hotline. Washington approved the contract, the station reported, which cost taxpayers about $8,000 per call. The hotline only received a few dozen calls each month.

Deputies also searched offices of Peace Over Violence, the Los Angeles Daily News reported in February. Peace Over Violence Executive Director Patricia Giggans is a close friend and political ally of Los Angeles County Supervisor Sheila Kuehl, who reportedly orchestrated a behind-the-scenes campaign for the nonprofit to receive the contract with L.A. Metro. Otherwise, details surrounding the investigation are sparse.

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.

Denver’s current confirmation process for mayoral appointments is typically handled by consent, meaning nominees are confirmed as part of a block vote with other agenda items, signifying a lack of controversy. (This happened last week without a hitch when the council confirmed Hancock’s appointment to head the city’s Department of General Services.)

“This is a seemingly very qualified person with a great background and an attachment to Denver, all the things we look for in a candidate,” Sawyer said of Washington. “But at the same time there are some questions that need to be answered.”

Sawyer said she and others on council will have the opportunity to ask Washington questions about the investigation and anything else in a business committee meeting, the date of which has yet to be determined.

“It’s an opportunity for Phil to get out there, address us and the public … talk about what he wants to do here at the airport, lessons learned,” Sawyer said.

The meeting is also a chance for Hancock’s administration to further explain the nominee, Sawyer said.

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