D.C. councilmen want own look into $38m lottery contract

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Local,DC,Alan Blinder

A D.C. Council committee threatened Thursday to open a probe into the city's lottery contract after D.C.'s chief financial officer repeatedly declined to discuss the matter and a District lawmaker mounted an emotional defense of his conduct amid fresh allegations that his activities "had overtones of pay to play."

"I have been an honest public servant in this city, and no one has suggested the contrary," said Ward 1 Councilman Jim Graham, who demanded an end to what he called "this besmirching of what is an honorable record."

Graham's comments came during a hearing in which Natwar Gandhi, the District's CFO, refused to answer most of lawmakers' queries about the $38 million lottery deal.Gandhi's lawyer advised him against discussing the matter because it is the subject of ongoing litigation.

But members of the council's finance committee hammered those responses as insufficient.

Ward 2 Councilman Jack Evans said the committee could seek subpoena power and launch an investigation, but he later predicted lawmakers would avoid a formal examination while a federal grand jury continues its probe.

Evans, who called the lottery deal "problematic," said he thought law enforcement was better suited to review the possibility of "shenanigans."

"We don't have the abilities to get to the answers," Evans said.

Discussion of a council investigation came hours after a deposition of Robert Andary, a former investigator in Gandhi's office, became public.

Andary investigated the lottery deal in 2008 and found that Graham had pressed a local businessman to withdraw from a Metro development deal in exchange for the lawmaker's support of the man's effort to win the lucrative contract.

In his February deposition, Andary said he believed Graham had acted improperly, though he stopped short of classifying Graham's actions as criminal.

"It appears to me that he was using his opposition to the lottery to get something, and that's what he attempted to do," said Andary, who said Graham's actions "had overtones of pay to play."

Although Graham has long denied wrongdoing and has not been charged with any crime, he offered a passionate defense of his actions Thursday. "I have had it with this," Graham said.

Andary sat for a deposition as a part of a wrongful termination suit filed by Eric Payne, a former contracting official in Gandhi's office who claims he was fired for resisting political pressure on the lottery contract.

At-large Councilman David Catania, a longtime Gandhi critic, said the case and its outgrowths had high stakes for the CFO's future.

"This whole regime is in its final hour," Catania said. "I predict that this Payne lawsuit is the Waterloo for our CFO."

ablinder@washingtonexaminer.com

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Alan Blinder

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