D.C. campaign finance office hires full-time investigator

March 7, 2013

The D.C. Office of Campaign Finance has hired a full-time investigator to help it better scrutinize city politicians’ fundraising activities.

William O. SanFord, general counsel for OCF, told the D.C. Council Committee on Government Operations on Friday that the investigator was hired Jan. 28. The council budgeted for the position last year after repeated controversies about how some elected officials raised and spent campaign money.

Over the past three years, OCF has come under fire for not doing enough to enforce campaign finance laws, including allegations that Mayor Vincent C. Gray benefited from a shadow campaign and that Council member Vincent B. Orange received more than $25,000 in donations from donors with ties to beleaguered businessman Jeffrey E. Thompson.

“We would hope our enforcement ability would be increased with our new staff,” SanFord said.

The new investigator — the agency’s first in a decade — will assist both SanFord in OCF auditors to more aggressively untangle suspicious campaign donations and other possible violations of the law, said agency spokesman Wesley Williams.

Last week, Williams initially identified the new investigator as Payamz Zerrat, who he said was a former District police officer. But Williams later clarified that the man spelled his name as Payam Zeraat. He is a former corporal on the Arlington County police force.

Zeraat was dismissed from the force in August 2006, one year after he was shot while off-duty by a Prince William County police officer, according to Arlington County police.

According to media accounts of the incident, Zeraat was shot while he held a handgun and was threatening to commit suicide while sitting in a truck in the parking lot of Dale City shopping center.The Prince William officer shot Zeraat after he “made a movement that threatened” police negotiators, The Washington Post reported at the time.

Zeraat was charged with a misdemeanor charge of brandishing a firearm. He received a 30-day suspended sentence, court records show.

Zeraat referred questions to Williams.

Williams declined to comment about Zeraat’s arrest record, calling it a personnel matter. But Williams said Zeraat is “well-qualified” for the investigator position, noting he will also serve as an OCF paralegal.

“He’s well experienced and a certified paralegal,” Williams said. “We needed an investigator, and he’s qualified.”

When he was with Arlington police, Zeraat won honors for his response to the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attack on the Pentagon.

Williams said an internal miscommunication resulted in him initially misspelling Zeraat’s name and wrongly associating him with the city police force.

Tim Craig is The Post’s bureau chief in Pakistan. He has also covered conflicts in Iraq, Afghanistan and within the District of Columbia government.
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