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D.C. nails 9 more Natwar Gandhi employees in parking scheme

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Local,DC,Alan Blinder,Jack Evans

District investigators are accusing at least nine more employees of D.C. Chief Financial Officer Natwar Gandhi of fraudulently using parking permits intended for disabled drivers, broadening an embarrassing episode for Gandhi as he prepares to exit government.

In a series of confidential reports obtained by The Washington Examiner, Inspector General Charles Willoughby's office said it had "substantiated" allegations that nine workers within Gandhi's sprawling agency had acted improperly.

"Because parking is expensive, she uses the disability placards every day to park for free," the investigators wrote in one report of a February 2012 interview with an employee. "She did not think using the disability placard would be an issue, nor did she expect this level of scrutiny."

The nine new cases are in addition to two others The Examiner reported previously.

David Umansky, a spokesman for Gandhi, said the CFO was frustrated by the pattern of employees taking advantage of a District law that allows disabled drivers to park for free, a provision that has been susceptible to widespread fraud in the past.

"We are very concerned about this. Again, Dr. Gandhi wonders how people can be so stupid," Umansky said. "We are in the process of reviewing the findings and will take all appropriate actions, up to and including suspension and termination."

An official familiar with the investigation said the city had not fired any of the employees for their actions.

Ward 2 Councilman Jack Evans, chairman of the committee that oversees Gandhi's office, said the latest allegations stunned him.

"Are you serious?" Evans said when a reporter told him about the findings. "My reaction now is turning from puzzlement to anger."

The charges against the employees are the latest outgrowth of an investigation Willoughby's office has been conducting since at least August 2011.

The probe has also ensnared at least two employees of the D.C. Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs, including one who told investigators that her "use of the D.C. disability placards was wrong."

District authorities routinely conducted surveillance of the employees whose conduct they were investigating. Investigators said in their reports that they observed the nine workers in Gandhi's office on a total of 63 occasions.

Deputy Inspector General Blanche Bruce declined to discuss the investigation, including why officials were probing the conduct of Gandhi employees or the status of the review.

Gandhi has not been implicated in the scandal but the misconduct adds another stain to the CFO's tenure before he retires in June.

Gandhi has routinely encountered troublesome employees since becoming the District's fiscal cop in 2000, including a woman who admitted running the largest embezzlement scam in the history of the D.C. government.

ablinder@washingtonexaminer.com

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