TAX OFFICE SCANDAL
Gandhi Moving to Oust 14 Who Received Checks
Wednesday, October 22, 2008
D.C. Chief Financial Officer Natwar M. Gandhi is seeking the resignations of 14 tax office workers who allegedly accepted checks from Harriette Walters, the mastermind of the $48 million embezzlement scheme within that agency, sources said yesterday.
Gandhi informed the workers Friday that they would be fired if they did not resign, and most have left, one city government source said. The rest have said they will resign by the end of the month, the source said.
The action, first reported yesterday by the Examiner newspaper, comes after the U.S. attorney's office gave Gandhi last week a list of employees whose names appeared on checks written by Walters during the past six years. Walters, a former tax office manager, is one of 11 people convicted in the case but the only city government worker. Charges were dropped against another former employee, Diane Gustus.
Shortly after the case broke in November, Gandhi fired several high-ranking tax office managers, along with Walters and Gustus. He was not privy to the identities of other employees whose names were on the checks until last week, after the U.S. attorney's office closed the case, the city government source said.
Channing Phillips, a spokesman for the U.S. attorney's office, confirmed that Gandhi was seeking to remove 14 employees. However, one of the employees, who was given a very small amount of money, might only receive a reprimand as punishment, said the government source, who spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitive nature of the case.
"We're all working from a list of people who received checks from Ms. Walters," Phillips said. "From that list, we highlighted obvious ones who were employees, and [Gandhi's office] cross-referenced their employee records."
Last week, the law firm of WilmerHale, which is investigating the tax office at the request of the D.C. Council, debriefed Walters for six hours. Another debriefing will be held this week, officials said. Walters, who pleaded guilty to wire fraud and other charges last month, remains jailed pending sentencing.
Council Chairman Vincent C. Gray (D) said he has extended WilmerHale's contract, which was supposed to expire at the end of the month, for two weeks. Gray said he was not aware of what the firm has found. He said he supported Gandhi's decision.
"If you got money, you've got to go," Gray said. "I don't see any extenuating circumstances, any mitigating factors."
George Johnson, president of the local chapter of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, which represents about half of the workers asked to resign, said his office is helping them work out retirement settlements.
Johnson said some of the employees have been working for the city for 15 years.
Although some might not have known of Walters's scam, Johnson said it might be best for the employees to move on. If they fight and are fired, they might not get retirement benefits, he said.