Auditor Accused Of Taking Bribe From Company
Tuesday, September 30, 2008
An auditor for the D.C. tax office has been charged with accepting a $6,000 bribe to lower a business's taxes, allegedly taking the cash even as the FBI was swooping in on another scam at the agency.
El-Hadj Drame, 36, is accused of soliciting and taking the money between Nov. 4 and Nov. 14, a time when federal authorities were focused on a major fraud in the tax office. Harriette Walters, a mid-level manager, was arrested Nov. 7 and charged with carrying out the biggest embezzlement in the District government's history.
Authorities said the cases involving Drame and Walters are not related. Walters and nine others have pleaded guilty to charges involving the theft of more than $48 million in fraudulent property tax refunds.
Like Walters, Drame worked in the D.C. Office of Tax and Revenue. He started work in October 2005 and was paid $62,499 a year, city records show. According to charging papers, his duties included conducting office and field audits of a "wide range of different tax returns" from individuals and businesses.
The office has 400 employees, and it was unclear yesterday whether Drame and Walters knew each other. Drame, of Silver Spring, could not be reached for comment yesterday.
Officials said that Drame has been placed on paid administrative leave and that the agency is tightening controls.
"We currently do have internal controls in place for all audits," Natalie Wilson, a spokeswoman for the tax office, said in an e-mailed statement. "However, we are strengthening the audit process by introducing a case management system that will allow for greater centralization and oversight of the audit process."
A law enforcement source said authorities began investigating Drame after receiving a tip about a bribery scheme. The source spoke on the condition of anonymity because the investigation is continuing.
FBI agents investigating Walters raided the tax office Nov. 7, carting off boxes of records from the site on North Capitol Street NE. Chief Financial Officer Natwar M. Gandhi took immediate action, securing the resignations of the agency's director and other supervisors. On Nov. 8, Gandhi summoned employees to the Walter E. Washington Convention Center, where he urged them to guard the public's money and regain the public's trust.
All the while, according to prosecutors, Drame was carrying out his own scheme in what the charging papers described as a "continuing course of conduct."
Drame was charged late Friday in U.S. District Court with receipt of a bribe by a public official. He is accused of taking the money "for his personal use" in return for "lowering the business's sales and use tax liability," the charging papers state. The names of the business and its owner were not disclosed in the charging papers.
The charge was made in a document known as a "criminal information," which can be filed only with a defendant's consent. The filing can be made only after a defendant waives the right to have the case reviewed by a grand jury. It typically signals that a plea agreement is in the works.
The case raised additional questions about the tax office's operations. After the Walters scandal, the D.C. Council launched an investigation that officials said is nearly complete.
"Our investigation is still ongoing," said D.C. Council member Jack Evans (D-Ward 2), chairman of the Committee on Finance and Revenue. "Hopefully, with the new procedures and everything Gandhi has put into place, we will be able to catch these attempts to steal from the government."
Staff researcher Meg Smith contributed to this report.