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U.S. House Blocks Gandhi's Pay Raise

Rep. José E. Serrano (D-N.Y.), chairman of the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Financial Services and General Government, said in a statement that the raise was removed because it was "not an appropriations issue and therefore we preferred it be handled by the committee of jurisdiction." It remained unclear which committee that is and whether Norton or others will pursue the matter.

Also yesterday, a few blocks from the Capitol, Grooms appeared in federal court, wearing a black athletic jacket with the Harrah's casino insignia. She had been arrested earlier in the day by the FBI at her home in Clinton and was charged with conspiracy, bank fraud and other offenses.

Prosecutors said Grooms, 52, is a close friend of Walters, a former mid-level tax office manager who was arrested last month. Prosecutors say that Grooms stole nearly a quarter-million dollars in property tax refunds this year using phony company names. She is charged with conspiracy, bank fraud and other offenses.

Grooms, who works for Visions Realty in Greenbelt, was a relatively minor player, prosecutors said, but she knowingly received two fraudulent refund checks this year. She is listed in a city employee database as having worked as an accounting clerk for the University of the District of Columbia in the late 1990s.

Prosecutors said that a check for $84,000 was issued to Grooms in February. It was marked "hold for pickup" by a local lawyer. Instead, Grooms deposited the check into accounts she opened at SunTrust Bank, according to charging documents.

Another check, written in June for $125,000, was issued to "AwsomGraphics Group" and listed "A. Grooms" as a co-payee on the check who could be reached at "Carfritz Realty." There is a Cafritz Co. that manages real estate in Washington, but Grooms does not work there.

Grooms created a company called Awesome Graphics, but it existed only on paper, prosecutors said. Authorities said that Grooms also used several aliases, including Alethia Mack, Alethia Sloan and Alethia Covington.

Prosecutors said a cooperating witness has told them that Walters knows Grooms well and recommended her when the witness was considering buying a home. A judge released Grooms yesterday pending a hearing today.

Database editor Dan Keating, staff writer Allan Lengel and staff researcher Meg Smith contributed to this report.

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