Leon Swain Jr. double-checked his recording device and then stepped from his black sport-utility vehicle into an overcast September Friday with one simple, yet potentially dangerous, task: to see if his cover had been blown.
“It’s showtime,” he thought.
For the past hour, Swain, a D.C. taxi official turned FBI informant in a public corruption probe, had been mulling over how to keep the investigation going, if only for one more week. He knew it would not be easy: That morning’s newspapers had been filled with headlines trumpeting the arrest of a D.C. Council aide, and his FBI handlers were nervous that their targets might suspect Swain was an informant.
Clad in a dark suit that hung loosely from his rotund frame, the taxi commission chairman took a deep breath and then lumbered across the parking lot to meet one of the targets sitting in an idling gold Mercedes-Benz.
In a city where federal authorities are investigating the campaigns of the mayor and the chairman of the D.C. Council, where a council member was forced to resign in January after pleading guilty to corruption charges and where lower-level officials seem to be indicted all too frequently, Swain not only turned down a substantial bribe but also became an FBI informant. He willingly wore a wire, accepted about $250,000 in payoffs from corrupt businessmen trying to control the D.C. taxi industry and spent two years looking over his shoulder wondering if anyone was onto him.