What the Feds Say the Tax Lady Spent at Neiman's: $1.4 million

By Hank Stuever
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, November 9, 2007

Despite every effort to make ourselves over into a hipper, more fashionable Washington, one pernicious problem remains: Too many of us still struggle with the idea that a person, even a thief, could have "spent over $1.4 million at Neiman Marcus, the retailer," in seven years' time.

Which is what the affidavit alleges that Harriette Walters, who worked for the D.C. government for 25 years (the last few as a manager in the city's Office of Tax and Revenue), did. Prosecutors said Wednesday that Walters and her colleague Diane Gustus had been, for years, quietly helping themselves to $20 million from the city pile in the form of bogus refund checks. They "got paid," in urban parlance, and bought themselves some nice things.

Prosecutors mention a Bentley in someone's garage. But let's just imagine the clothes: Two fiftyish ladies, off to the Judiciary Square Cosí, decked out in Chanel, St. John, Ralph Lauren.

They shopped, jaws drop.

And did you know Wednesday was officially "Neiman Marcus Mazza Gallerie Day" in Washington? Mayor Adrian Fenty made a proclamation at a nice little evening cocktail party at Mazza Gallerie, thanking the shopping center and its premier tenant for 30 years of happy, high-end retail. A jazz quartet played "The Lady Is a Tramp."

The scheduling irony was not the mayor's fault -- he made the commitment to Mazza Gallerie's anniversary party more than a month ago, his spokeswoman reminded us.

Neiman Marcus "both enriches and improves the lives of many in Washington, D.C.," the mayor read from his proclamation, noting its charitable donations and sponsorship of fundraising events, and then he added: "And I should say: We really love collecting sales taxes off of you."

The crowd laughed.

No mention was made, of course, of the shopping habits of Walters and Gustus.

Back to our scandal in progress: The affidavit was written by a total man, who doesn't go into exact detail about what Walters actually purchased at Neiman's. He's all about the bottom line. FBI agents are sometimes like those husbands you distract by putting dry-cleaning bags over things you just bought, so he doesn't think you went shopping again. Eventually he figures it out, but in the intervening, a whole other retail economy transpires in the trunk of one's car.

(And don't go wondering if the spokeswoman at the Mazza Gallerie Neiman Marcus store can illuminate the many ways Walters became a good customer. For all we know at this point, she may even have been a Tysons II shopper. "We never talk about [customers]," the spokeswoman says.)

To use a cliche, do the math. Prosecutors allege Walters's purchases were made "from September 2000 to the present," seven years, which is really only a couple hundred grand a year.

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