July 16, 2012

JIM GRAHAM, the Democrat who represents Ward 1 on the D.C. Council, gave a deposition last week in a federal lawsuit brought by fired lottery contract officer Eric W. Payne. Unlike other city officials who were deposed (including Mayor Vincent C. Gray (D)) Mr. Graham wouldn’t allow his deposition to be videotaped, according to Mr. Payne. Moreover, he said he couldn’t discuss what was said because the city also had moved to keep Mr. Graham’s remarks under seal. This request would be based on an argument that would be laughable if it weren’t so offensive: that Mr. Graham should be afforded whistleblower protection. Let’s hope someone — such as the federal magistrate presiding over the case — puts an end to this absurd notion.

At the heart of the city’s claim is Mr. Graham’s role in bringing a 2008 complaint against Mr. Payne, then an employee of the chief financial officer overseeing procurement of the District’s multi-million-dollar lottery operation. Mr. Graham alleged that a local business in line for the contract but needing council approval had tried to influence his vote by offering a job to one of his supporters. He said he suspected Mr. Payne was involved in this scheme.

An investigation by Robert G. Andary, director of the office of integrity and oversight for Chief Financial Officer Natwar M. Gandhi, exonerated Mr. Payne — and turned the tables on Mr. Graham. Mr. Andary found evidence of what he believed was questionable behavior on Mr. Graham’s part in trying to thwart a lottery bidder the council member disliked. Mr. Andary concluded that Mr. Graham’s baseless complaint about Mr. Payne may have been part of that political agenda, a suspicion Mr. Graham strongly denies.

Mr. Payne was later dismissed. He alleges he was wrongfully fired because he resisted political pressure to take improper action on the lottery contract and raised questions about CFO contracting practices. Thus the lawsuit. The city denies wrongdoing, saying Mr. Payne lost his job because of unrelated performance problems.

Like Mr. Graham, Mr. Andary has been deposed in the Payne case. His Feb. 10, deposition as well as portions of Mr. Gandhi’s deposition concerning Mr. Graham’s complaint and the investigation are also under protective order because in lodging his original complaint Mr. Graham requested confidentiality.

Much of Mr. Andary’s investigative report already has been disclosed, so why the need for secrecy? When we asked Mr. Graham this question, he e-mailed us, without being specific, that we were relying on “bad info,” and he referred us to city lawyers. We couldn’t get any of them – from the office of attorney general or the D.C. Council’s counsel – to explain the logic. Mr. Graham has the authority to waive his status as a supposed informant. He repeatedly has denied any wrongdoing related to the lottery contract or to Mr. Payne’s dismissal. So why not allow everything to be made public?