Personal Shopper for Walters Gets One-Year Term

By Henri E. Cauvin
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, December 12, 2008

The Neiman Marcus saleswoman who was a personal shopper for the official at the center of the D.C. tax office scandal was sentenced yesterday to a year behind bars.

Marilyn Yoon, who once viewed Harriette Walters as a generous, encouraging mentor, eventually realized that the D.C. tax office manager wasn't what she seemed, Yoon's attorney, Stanley Reed, said in federal court in Greenbelt.

But instead of reporting her suspicions to the authorities, Yoon said nothing for five months, coming forward only after news of the massive embezzlement broke in November 2007.

She was not yet a target of investigators, though she eventually would have come under scrutiny, prosecutors said. In court yesterday, the U.S. attorney's office credited her with acknowledging her role fully and promptly. She pleaded guilty to a charge of possession of property obtained by fraud.

All told, authorities say, Walters orchestrated a scheme involving illegal property tax refunds that cost the D.C. government nearly $50 million. Eleven people have pleaded guilty in the case, including Walters, who is awaiting sentencing.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Jonathan Su asked for a sentence of 12 months for Yoon -- the low end of the range recommended under the federal sentencing guidelines.

As part of her plea agreement, Yoon agreed to forfeit her home in Derwood. Yesterday, Yoon, 40, appealed for leniency. "I'm so ashamed of what I've done," she told U.S. District Judge Alexander Williams Jr.

Yoon worked at the Tysons Corner Neiman Marcus, where Walters was a regular shopper, and the two women became friends. Walters volunteered to help Yoon and her family buy a home, and from June 2005 to May 2006, Walters gave Yoon just over $250,000 for a down payment on a house.

Yoon thought it was a loan, her attorney, Reed, said in court, and Yoon was not charged in connection with that money, though it was never repaid. More than once, the judge said he did not understand how a person wouldn't be suspicious of such lavish gifts from a friend.

Last year, Yoon did become suspicious, Reed said. Walters told Yoon that she had lined up a D.C. government contract for Yoon's husband, whose small construction business was struggling. Walters gave Yoon a check for $275,000, and Yoon deposited the check.

But then Walters said her brother's plumbing company had obtained a subcontract and that Yoon should send him a check for $125,000. Yoon did what she was told but not without wondering whether something untoward was afoot, Reed said.

Still, she kept her suspicions to herself, and she went on to use the rest of the money. But she was worried. When she heard about charges against a D.C. charter school official accused of steering no-bid contracts and embezzling funds, Yoon called Walters.

Yoon asked whether that was what Walters was doing?

"Child, please, those people were greedy," Walters told Yoon, according to Reed.

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