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Lotto whistleblower hits Gandhi with defamation suit

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Photo - D.C. Chief Financial Officer Natwar Gandhi. (Examiner file photo)
D.C. Chief Financial Officer Natwar Gandhi. (Examiner file photo)
Local,DC,Alan Blinder

The former District official who claims he was fired for pushing back at political power brokers seeking to influence the city's lottery contract has filed a $3 million defamation lawsuit against the D.C. government and its chief financial officer.

Eric Payne, who managed the lottery procurement process in 2007 and 2008, said Monday in a court filing that District CFO Natwar Gandhi made statements about him that were "mean-spirited, ill-willed and malicious."

Payne's claims are based on what he said are contradictions between Gandhi's statements in sworn testimony -- that he had nothing to do with Payne's 2009 firing -- and his remarks in media interviews and publicly circulated emails.

Asked about Payne's termination in a July interview with the Washington Post, Gandhi was quoted as saying, "It was my decision." He also described Payne as "a very poor manager."

But in a November 2011 deposition, Gandhi said, "It [was] not my decision to fire Mr. Payne."

In a letter to Mayor Vincent Gray, Payne's lawyer said Gandhi's seemingly dueling versions of events couldn't have transpired.

"Either Dr. Gandhi's prior statement that he did not personally terminate Mr. Payne is false, or his recent public statement that he did personally terminate Mr. Payne is false and malicious," Donald Temple wrote. "Both cannot be true."

A spokesman for Gandhi did not respond to a request for comment Monday.

The case, Payne's second against D.C., is the newest component of what has become a legal headache for District leaders in the aftermath of the city's efforts to pick a new lottery contractor.

Although the District picked a winner in early 2008 for the $120 million contract, the D.C. Council later rejected the deal, partly because of concerns about local businessman Warren Williams' role in the bid.

Payne has said that Mayor Vincent Gray, the chairman of the D.C. Council at the time, and Ward 1 Councilman Jim Graham exerted particularly strong opposition to Williams' bid.

Ultimately, the District awarded the contract to a firm controlled by Greek gambling giant Intralot -- Williams' partner in the original bid -- and another local businessman.

But Payne has contended that his dismissal was in retaliation for resisting political pressure, and a wrongful termination lawsuit he filed against the city is pending.

The Washington Examiner reported last week that, in addition to the civil proceedings, a federal grand jury is looking into whether bribes were exchanged in connection with the lottery deal.

Federal prosecutors have declined to comment, and Gray and Graham have denied any wrongdoing.

ablinder@washingtonexaminer.com

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