Citing numerous "financial scandals, theft and contracting improprieties" in the D.C. Office of Chief Financial Officer, former D.C. Councilman Bill Lightfoot and Kalorama civic activist Marie Drissel strongly urged Mayor Vincent Gray to replace Natwar Gandhi when his last term expired in June.
Gray ignored their recommendation, and the D.C. Council rubber-stamped Gandhi's reappointment. But officials' continued confidence in the city's top bean counter seems like the gift that keeps on punishing the city.
A lot of money has gone missing since Gandhi was first given total control of the city's finances in 2000. In 2002, it was discovered that his general counsel had helped himself to $250,000 from the Tobacco Settlement Fund. In 2003, an investment firm hired by Gandhi's office "lost" $21 million earmarked for the D.C. Charter School Credit Enhancement Fund. In 2006, the D.C. Lottery (which Gandhi oversees) saw its security breached, and $85,000 in fake tickets were printed and cashed in just one day -- the only such lottery security breach in any state.
In 2008, Office of Tax and Revenue manager Harriette Walters was caught in a long-term embezzlement scheme worth $48 million. In 2011, former tax examiner Mary Ayers-Zander was caught stealing $365,281. This week, OTR control technician Kimberle Davis was accused of filing hundreds of fraudulent tax returns that generated nearly $305,000 in undeserved refunds. These are just the ones who have been caught.
The Securities and Exchange Commission is now investigating Gandhi's operation and has just ordered him to turn over copies of internal audits and related documents going back to 2010.
Gandhi has claimed that the public release of audits would have provided a "road map" for criminals eager to exploit weaknesses in the system. Given that they're obviously exploiting those weaknesses already, this is starting to look more like a cover-up than a precaution. Even Gandhi's allies on the council (with the notable exception of David Catania) are getting fed up with excuses. After the abrupt resignation of CFO watchdog William DiVello -- months after Gandhi reportedly buried an audit exposing that tax managers were making undetected changes in commercial property assessments -- the council unanimously voted to require him to start posting all completed audits online.
By then, Gandhi had already been reappointed to a second five-year term. He cannot be fired except for cause. So does the concealment of bad news from the mayor and council as they were considering Gandhi's reappointment constitute "cause"?