The name of President Joe Biden’s nominee for administrator of the Federal Aviation Authority (FAA) popped up recently in a search warrant issued as part of a Los Angeles corruption probe.
In early July, Biden nominated Phillip Washington, CEO of Denver International Airport, the country’s fifth busiest airport, to run the FAA.
From 2015 to 2021, Washington was the CEO of Los Angeles Metro, where, according to the White House announcement, he “managed a budget of more than $8 billion and oversaw 11,000 employees that transported 1.2 million boarding passengers daily on a fleet of 2,200 clean-air buses and six rail lines.”
At the heart of the Los Angeles corruption investigation is a “sole source,” or noncompetitive, contract awarded in 2016 by the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) to Peace Over Violence, a non-profit organization run by Patti Giggans, a “lifelong close friend” of Los Angeles Country Supervisor Sheila Kuehl, according to the warrant.
Peace Over Violence was hired to set up a sexual harassment hotline, conduct outreach and provide counseling services to those sexually harassed or assaulted while riding on the MTA. The LA County Sheriff’s search warrant notes the hotline’s low public engagement. In October 2019, for example, an investigation found that the hotline logged only eight legitimate calls. From January through August 2020, the hotline fielded only 13 calls, which the sheriff calculated as costing taxpayers $8,450 per call.
The MTA renewed the contract in 2018 and 2019, paying a total of $890,000 to Peace Over Violence over multiple years.
According to the sheriff’s statement of probable cause, an MTA whistleblower alleges that Washington, as LA Metro CEO, pushed forward Peace Over Violence’s contract without a competitive bidding process in order to remain “in good graces”’ with his then-boss, Kuehl.
The whistleblower also claims that Washington ordered her to pay a bill of $75,000 to Peace Over Violence in 2015, before the MTA had even authorized the contract. “He stated he’d rather not upset any of Supervisor Sheila Kuehl’s friends rather than dispute the veracity of the bill,” according to the warrant’s account of witness testimony, adding that Washington said “he would rather pay the $75,000, so he could later use that to his advantage when he needed a political favor from Supervisor Sheila Kuehl.”
Last week, the LA County Sheriff searched the offices of the MTA and the Inspector General of the MTA, as well as both the offices and residences of Kuehl and Giggans.
Washington and Kuehl have both denied any wrongdoing. “All the allegations are false,” Washington told Bloomberg Government at an Air Line Pilots Association conference in Washington, D.C.
On Monday, Kuehl took legal action to stop the LA County Sheriff’s Department from examining items seized last week, reports NBC in Los Angeles. Kuehl is also arguing that the search warrant used to enter her home and office was likely unlawful.
The FAA has been run by acting administrator Billy Nolen since former FAA administrator Steven Dickson retired in late March. The White House did not immediately respond to a request for comment regarding the status of Washington’s nomination.
The Senate committee overseeing the FAA has yet to schedule Washington’s nomination hearing, but Senator Roger Wicker from Mississippi, the committee’s ranking Republican, said the process will now require “additional scrutiny.”
“When Mr. Washington was nominated in July, I expressed my skepticism surrounding his lack of experience in aviation. Now I am deeply troubled to learn the nominee was named in a search warrant that ties him to allegations of corruption at LA Metro,” Wicker said in a statement. “I anticipate that this nominee’s credibility will also be a key focus of the committee.”