I've spent the last few days writing about my two pet causes: Laura Sessions Stepp and the Nationals stadium fiasco. But those two obvious targets haven't been the only source of embarrassment for the city in the past few days. I of course am referring to one of the greatest corruption scandals in city history.
When I started paying attention to local matters, one of the first things I noticed was that there was only one really untouchable figure in local politics. That would be Chief Financial Officer Natwar M. Gandhi. Gandhi is credited with greatly improving the health of DC's economy and keeping the local budget under control since taking the position in 2000.
Well, it hasn't been a good week for him.
First The Washington Post wrote an editorial chiding him for his handling of the city's $79,000,000 loan to Specialty Hospitals of America to keep open Greater Southeast Community Hospital. This editorial was faintly damning. The real bad news dropped yesterday.
That's right, folks. The biggest corruption scandal in DC history!
Two mid-level D.C. government employees used phony paperwork to collect more than $16 million from illegal tax refunds, avoiding detection for at least three years while issuing more than 40 checks cashed by friends and family members in on the scam, prosecutors said yesterday.
By day, Harriette Walters and Diane Gustus worked at the District's Office of Tax and Revenue. In their free time, prosecutors said, they worked with others to raid the city's treasury to stock up on luxury items including fancy cars, homes, furs, precious jewelry, designer handbags and clothing. Walters alone spent more than $1.4 million at Neiman Marcus, according to charging papers.
Gandhi oversees the Office of Tax and Revenue. His inferiors were doing, and this is being charitable, a pretty poor job. No one at the office realized what was going on. In fact, the whole thing was spotted by a bank teller who refused to cash a crooked $410,000 check. That check, along with many others, was signed by office director Sherryl Hobbs Newman. Newman, along with other DC bureaucrats, are being forced to resign for failing to catch what should have been obvious.
Honestly, when one of your employees making $81,000 annually and driving around in a $160,000 Bentley asks you to sign a $350,000 check, that should have raised a few dozen red flags.
It took ten years of mostly excellent service, but it looks like the luster of DC's greatest bureaucrat is beginning to fade. We can't fire him without DC Council and Congressional approval (not that I'm suggesting we should go that course), but he's starting to give them some pretty potent ammunition.