D.C. slams ex-employee for seeking another Gray deposition

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Photo - D.C. Lottery mobile truck (Examiner file photo)
D.C. Lottery mobile truck (Examiner file photo)
Local,DC,Alan Blinder

The District is accusing a former employee of trying to transform a wrongful termination suit into a "citywide conspiracy" about corruption in the local government's lottery contract.

The city made the claim in response to an effort by Eric Payne, a former aide to the District's chief financial officer, to depose Mayor Vincent Gray for a second time. Payne, who alleges he was fired for resisting political pressure to modify the lottery deal that is worth tens of millions of dollars, is suing the city for wrongful termination.

But the District blasted Payne's request.

Decrying Payne's "attempt to expand this run-of-the-mill employment law claim into a citywide conspiracy," District lawyers argued Payne wants a federal judge to force Gray to answer inappropriate questions.

In May, the judge overseeing the case sharply limited the scope of Payne's questions during Gray's July 10 deposition.

"[Payne's] counsel failed to comply with this court's unambiguous directive," Assistant Attorney General Keith Parsons wrote on behalf of the city.

Payne's motion seeking to force another round of testimony remains sealed, though his lawyer acknowledged in a separate filing that they were pressing for the opportunity to ask "contested" questions.

A magistrate will hear arguments about the deposition Friday.

Payne's wrongful termination suit -- he also has a pending defamation suit against the city -- is part of the long-running legal saga linked to the massive lottery contract.

The multimillion-dollar deal started in 2007, when the city sought bids for a new contractor to manage the lottery after a series of miscues.

Although the District picked a winner in early 2008, the D.C. Council rejected the deal, partly because of concerns about the role of local businessman Warren Williams in the company that won the contract.

Payne has said that Gray, the D.C. Council chairman at the time and Ward 1 Councilman Jim Graham exerted particularly strong pressure on him to void the deal. Both men have denied wrongdoing.

The District ultimately awarded the contract to a firm controlled by a Greek company that was Williams' partner in the first winning bid and another local businessman.

A federal grand jury is now probing the lottery procurement process, and The Washington Examiner first reported in July that prosecutors had issued subpoenas referring to a law banning bribery of public officials.

U.S. Attorney Ronald Machen Jr.'s office has repeatedly declined to discuss the probe.

In a court filing, Payne said Gray "acknowledged having been contacted by the United States attorney's office in connection with a grand jury investigation of fraud and corruption."

Parsons denied that claim, which he said indicated Payne was "desperate for a second bite at the apple."

ablinder@washingtonexaminer.com

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Alan Blinder

Staff Reporter, D.C. City Hall
The Washington Examiner