Then- D.C. Chief Financial Officer Natwar M. Gandhi before a press conference about the city budget in 2012. (John McDonnell/THE WASHINGTON POST)

A federal jury ordered the District government to pay a former senior city contracting official $1.7 million in damages Tuesday after finding he was wrongfully demoted and fired in January 2009 for objecting to what he deemed political meddling in the awarding of city contracts.

Eric W. Payne filed his whistleblower retaliation suit in 2010, alleging his wrongful termination as contracting director in the office of then-D. C. Chief Financial Officer Natwar M. Gandhi.

A judge later dropped Gandhi from the suit but allowed to go forward Payne’s claims that he was punished for complaining that then-Council member Jim Graham (D-Ward 1) and then-Council Chairman Vincent C. Gray (D) sought to steer a $228 million lottery contract.

Graham and Gray have vigorously denied the allegations of wrongdoing.

“The road to justice may be long and winding, but I’m thankful that we finally got there,” Payne, 45, said after a 10-member jury delivered its verdict in a two-week trial before U.S. District Judge Paul L. Friedman.

Payne said his family returned to Northern Virginia for the trial after living three years in Saudi Arabia, where he managed a U.S. Air Force contract for a Saudi company after he said he had been unable find work in the ­Washington area.

“My name was mud. The District did everything they could to destroy my professional name,” Payne said. “The biggest victory is I have my name again, my integrity, I can start my life over again, and my family no longer has to suffer.”

D.C. Attorney General Karl A. Racine (D) said in a statement that the District would continue to litigate the case, saying, “We respect the jury’s verdict, but since there are post-trial motions pending, we won’t comment further at this point.”

The six-year-old lawsuit painted an unflattering picture of a cast of District leaders and allegations of a pay-to-play political culture.

Payne claimed he was fired for refusing to yield to pressure to cancel a contract won by a joint venture of multinational lottery firm Intralot and a local partner co-owned by a friend of then-Mayor Adrian M. Fenty (D). Payne said he was punished after Gandhi found out that he had gone to two investigative agencies in city government to report the pressure.

The D.C. Council disapproved the contract, which was rebid in 2009 and awarded to Intralot.

Gray, elected this month to his old Ward 7 council seat, publiclyobjected to the first award but repeatedly denied intervening on the contract.

Graham’s role in a land deal said to be entangled with the lottery contract is part of another lawsuit in federal court. Graham has denied wrongdoing, and an inspector general report concluded there was insufficient evidence that he had acted improperly. Graham was defeated in a 2014 reelection bid after a City Council reprimand.

Attorneys for the District said Payne was an abrasive and poor manager and that his performance was what hurt his career.

However, in court, Donald M. Temple, Payne’s lawyer, presented a recording of Payne’s managers telling Payne that Graham had a personal vendetta against him. Temple also cited Gandhi’s sworn testimony that he’d had nothing to do with Payne’s firing nor was he consulted about it, yet had stated in a 2012 article in The Washington Post that “it was my decision.”

Temple said the jury found that 10 of 17 disclosures made by Payne fell under the District’s whistleblower protection law, adding Tuesday, “This case gives meaning to the District’s law, and gives us hope that people who are in Payne’s situation who detect fraud and gross mismanagement feel free to disclose it without sanction or retaliation.”