A city contractor in Washington has pleaded guilty to bribing public officials at two D.C. agencies, and prosecutors say the businessman interfered with a “wider corruption investigation,” according to recently unsealed court documents.
Emad Hajhassan, the owner of a D.C. tow truck business, was sentenced earlier this year to 16 months in prison for paying nearly $50,000 to city officials at the Department of Public Works and the D.C. Taxicab Commission (now the Department of For-Hire Vehicles) in exchange for towing and impoundment assignments for his company.
“The defendant corrupted two city agencies, interfered with rule-following business owners’ ability to compete fairly for city contracts, and undermined confidence in the integrity of city contracting,” federal prosecutors said in sentencing documents unsealed late last month.
After Hajhassan of Alexandria initially pleaded guilty in 2014, prosecutors said he paid off a third official with about $13,000 in cash to maintain an exclusive towing contract in violation of his plea agreement and to the detriment of a law enforcement investigation.
“He then lied to the FBI about that scheme, falsely claimed that his corruption was motivated by fear not greed, and inhibited the government from holding corrupt officials accountable for their crimes,” prosecutors said in the filing.
Hajhassan is listed in court records as the owner of Able Towing, on Adams Mill Road in Northwest, one of nearly two dozen private companies the city relied on at the time for towing jobs.
D.C. Council member Mary M. Cheh (D-Ward 3), who heads the council’s Committee on Transportation and the Environment, said Monday that bribery and corruption in the government and among government employees is “corrosive. It drains confidence, and I think that whenever it’s found, it should be prosecuted fully.”
Cheh, whose committee oversees the Department of Public Works, said she would wait for more details of the investigation — including whether indictments are filed against other District employees referenced in the Hajhassan case — before deciding whether her committee needs to hold a hearing into the potential for wider problems at the agency.
“The more airing out of this stuff, the better,” she said.
Officials at the Department of For-Hire Vehicles and the administration of Mayor Muriel E. Bowser (D) did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
Public Works Director Chris Geldart said in a statement that “nothing is more important than the public’s trust. With this in mind, when a customer service representative in DPW’s parking enforcement division was observed behaving suspiciously back in 2014, DPW contacted the District of Columbia’s Office of the Inspector General to investigate. As a result of the investigation, criminal charges were filed, and DPW dismissed the employee.”
Hajhassan’s attorneys did not immediately respond Monday to messages seeking comment.
In court filings, his lawyers asked for a sentence of probation and noted that his cooperation led to the conviction in 2016 of Vernita M. Greenfield, a D.C. government dispatcher who handled tow truck orders. Greenfield, who pleaded guilty to one count of federal bribery, was paid $200 to $500 in weekly installments for steering towing orders to Hajhassan’s company from 2011 through 2013, court documents stated.
Hajhassan’s lawyers said he separately got involved with a government supervisor who controlled several tow truck contracts within Public Works because he feared the consequences of not cooperating with the supervisor.
“Hajhassan believed that if he refused this supervisor’s requests that the supervisor would retaliate through either physical violence or financial damage to his business,” according to the court filings first reported Monday by the Program on Extremism at George Washington University.
The documents do not name the supervisor or another official identified as a public vehicle inspector with the cab commission.
Hajhassan admitted in his plea deal to paying $400 in cash each month to the inspector to steer about 80 percent of assignments to tow and impound taxicabs that were in violation of city regulations.
Prosecutors had recommended a prison sentence of 33 to 41 months for Hajhassan. U.S. District Judge Paul L. Friedman in January sentenced him to 16 months for each of two counts of bribing a public official, to be served concurrently.