Barras: Foul politics in D.C.

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Local,DC,Jonetta Rose Barras

They're all in bed together. That's the only conclusion to reach after realizing District officials -- Chief Financial Officer Natwar Gandhi, Attorney General Irvin Nathan and Inspector General Charles Willoughby -- each had a copy of Robert Andary's report suggesting D.C. Councilman Jim Graham engaged in questionable behavior during the 2008 lottery contracting process.

The trio is supposed to protect taxpayers and the government against waste, fraud and abuse. Yet no action was taken.

In 2008, the Ward 1 legislator didn't just trash the winning lottery bidders. He accused the CFO's then-contracts director, Eric Payne, of interfering with the process.

As Gandhi's internal ethics and oversight czar, Andary investigated that allegation. He found it was false and said it appeared part of Graham's "political agenda" to influence who was awarded the lottery contract. Andary also uncovered information that Graham may have tried to trade his council vote for changes to a Metro development deal.

"I did not see -- or even know with certainty of the existence of this report until February 2012," Graham said. He added that nothing in the report suggests "any crime was committed, or law broken or illegal financial interest."

Gandhi deep-sixed Andary's report and later fired Payne, who subsequently filed a wrongful termination lawsuit. During that litigation, the city's attorney general, at Gandhi's request, got the court to seal Andary's report to protect a "confidential" source. Audaciously, Graham had claimed "whistleblower" status.

"We cannot comment on the report ... it is under court seal," CFO spokesman David Umansky told me. He said Gandhi didn't see the draft report -- only the final document. Umansky also said Andary "did not believe the findings rose to the level of a [criminal] referral."

Actually, in his draft, Andary said he was not empowered to investigate Graham and advised others to file a complaint with the IG.

When the IG issued his report earlier this year about the 2008 and 2009 lottery debacles and iGaming, he wrote the "OIG did not find sufficient evidence to support or conclude [Graham] had acted improperly." But Willoughby did not formally interview Graham, nor did he incorporate Andary's 2008 notes.

"This office's lottery report speaks for itself and we stand by the report," Willoughby told me.

AG spokesman Ted Gest said any investigation of Graham "might be appropriate" for the council, the ethics board or the IG.

How's that for passing the buck?

Add Councilman Jack Evans to the group. His finance committee oversees Gandhi's operation, including the lottery. He received a copy of Andary's final report -- not the draft -- earlier this year. Still, Evans never publicly asked any questions about it or Graham's behavior.

"It's unfair to spin conspiracy theories and include me. It is not my place to call for an investigation of my colleague," said Evans.

That quartet has shielded Graham, allowing him to continue his questionable brand of politics.

That may all end this week, however. Wednesday, Payne will ask the court to unseal the Andary report. Evans will hold another council hearing Thursday. He has invited Andary to appear.

Jonetta Rose Barras' column appears on Tuesday and Friday. She can be reached at jonetta@jonettarosebarras.com.

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