Watchdog: Accountability

CFO Natwar Gandhi's tenure riddled with secrecy, employee misconduct

By |
Local,DC,Alan Blinder,Accountability,Transparency

Although Natwar Gandhi, the District's chief financial officer, has accumulated widespread praise for his efforts to rehabilitate the city's economic image since he took office in 2000, his office has been criticized regularly for secrecy and employee misconduct.

Gandhi's greatest crisis took place in 2007, after federal authorities arrested Harriette Walters, an Office of Tax and Revenue employee, and charged her with embezzling $48.1 million.

The scheme, for which Walters received a prison sentence of more than 17 years, was the largest embezzlement scam in the history of the D.C. government and prompted Gandhi to offer his resignation to Mayor Adrian Fenty.

Fenty refused the offer from Gandhi, whom Mayor Vincent Gray appointed to a new, five-year term last summer.

After Walters' arrest, Gandhi's office oversaw the awarding of the District's controversial lottery contract, a $38 million deal that is now the subject of a federal investigation and linked to several civil lawsuits, including one by a former employee.

Other personnel issues also have bedeviled Gandhi's run as a top player in local politics.

Gandhi's general counsel resigned in December 2001, after officials learned that "he held neither a law degree nor a license to practice law," and the District's chief tax appraiser abruptly quit last year after news reports questioned his qualifications.

And in recent months, another tax office employee pleaded guilty to charges linked to her role in a refund-generating scheme, while other workers have been implicated for repeated misuses of disabled parking permits.

The Securities and Exchange Commission is also probing Gandhi's office after it acknowledged that it did not routinely publicize audits that were critical of its operations.

Still, when Gandhi announced in February that he would retire later in the year, D.C. officials raced to praise his long tenure, one that has featured several massive budget surpluses.

"As with any person who excels in his or her profession, Nat Gandhi has made the work look easy," D.C. Council Chairman Phil Mendelson said in a statement then. "But anyone who looks closely will realize quickly that guiding the District's fiscal health is work -- hard work."

Gray has not yet named Gandhi's replacement.

View article comments Leave a comment
Author:

Alan Blinder

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