Gandhi Leans on New Aides After Scandal

By David Nakamura
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Stephen Cordi served 31 years in Maryland tax administration before stepping down as deputy comptroller in 2005. Around the same time, Robert Andary wrapped up his final case in 32 years as a criminal investigator for federal and D.C. government agencies. Both assumed their days of public service were over.

They were wrong.

In January, D.C. Chief Financial Officer Natwar M. Gandhi moved to fill two critical posts after the largest embezzlement scandal in city history erupted at the Office of Tax and Revenue. He hired Cordi, 64, as the tax director and Andary, 60, as the chief of internal audits and investigations. The two have been given the job of restoring public trust in an agency reeling from allegations that two employees and several accomplices stole as much as $50 million over 20 years through bogus property tax refunds.

Gandhi said Cordi's and Andary's extensive r¿sum¿s show that they are the right choices for the difficult task. Yet each lacks experience in a critical area.

Cordi ran the day-to-day operations in the Maryland comptroller's office, but he has never overseen a property tax division because Maryland has an independent department for that function. Andary prosecuted homicide cases for the U.S. attorney's office, worked as inspector general of the U.S. Government Printing Office and spent three years investigating government agencies for the D.C. inspector general. But Andary said he has never investigated financial crime.

Fletcher Baldwin, a University of Florida law professor who specializes in financial crime, said it is important for financial investigators to have expertise in the field because they must deal with complicated paper transactions and banking regulations. "The illicit money is laundered in banks, so you have to have some expertise," Baldwin said.

Andary said he has been "learning a lot" during his first few weeks on the job. "It's sort of a new area to me," he said.

Gandhi dismissed questions about Cordi's and Andary's credentials, saying that when the totality of their experience is weighed, they are more than qualified. He added that their willingness to sign on in a time of crisis should boost the spirits of embattled employees.

"Employees are demoralized," Gandhi said. "Before this, we had a model tax office and a great reputation. Then, it was gone in one day."

Their cleanup job won't be easy. A half-dozen teams of auditors and investigators -- including members of the U.S. attorney's office, the D.C. inspector general's office and several high-powered private firms -- are swarming through the tax office, poring over documents, testing financial controls and examining policies for weaknesses. Tomorrow, Gandhi, Cordi and Andary will appear at an oversight hearing before the D.C. Council.

"Our job is to move forward to make sure it won't happen again," Andary said of the scandal.

For Gandhi, the stakes are enormous. In the wake of the scandal, his carefully constructed world -- and shining public image -- were turned upside down. He fired the tax director, Sherryl Hobbs Newman, and several of her deputies. Ben Lorigo, a close aide of Gandhi's, resigned. Lorigo had been responsible for the internal audit and investigation unit since its inception in 2003.

CONTINUED     1        >

© 2008 The Washington Post Company