Monday, November 19, 2007

Culture of Corruption, Part Deux

Just in case you missed it, Channel 9 News ran a segment last night (transcript here) with additional details on the Office of Tax and Revenue fiasco.

According to the story, it seems that "Mother Harriette" (or is is Hariette, I've seen it written both ways) Walters had her co-workers cashing her personal checks for $5 to $10 thousand on their lunch breaks and bringing the cash back to her. In return, allegedly, she treated co-workers to Wizards games using her front row season tickets, shopping sprees at Neiman-Marcus, and gambling trips to Vegas and Atlantic City. She was also the office go-to person when co-workers needed a loan, doling out loans for "tens of thousands of dollars." It also appears that at least two of her supervisors had at least an inkling that something fishy was going on, but evidently never followed up. (Who knows? Maybe they got a little something too?)

You gotta admit this is all pretty brilliant. Not only did Mother Hariette help write the rules that she evaded to bleed off $20-30 million in taxpayers' money, she managed to get all of her co-workers enmeshed in a web of complicity so none of them would dare blow the whistle. It increasingly looks like everyone was in on it to some degree.

No wonder OTR can't be bothered with collecting deliquent property taxes. Its employees are all off buying bling at Neiman's or playing the slots at Harrah's. It really makes you want to pay your taxes next time, doesn't it?

This all reminds me of a great song from a 1960 Broadway musical called "Tenderloin" set in Manhattan's red-light district. The chorus of the song goes something like this:

Ain't it grand how the money changes hands!
Ain't it grand how the money changes hands!
Everbody's happy,
Just the way it stands,
Just as long as the money changes hands.

To paraphrase the old Marine expression: Let's fire 'em all and let God sort it out.

Addendum: If you're following this case and its widening ripples, there's good stuff here.


Wednesday, November 14, 2007

The DC Culture of Corruption

Well, I am awestruck! According to the WaPo, it now looks like two DC government employees stole $31,000,000. AND NO ONE EVER NOTICED!!! And they've been at it for eight years! So much for the slander that DC government employees are shiftless drones.

I've always thought that the DC Office of Tax and Revenue was lazy and clueless. We know it can't be bothered to investigate and address property tax fraud even when it has the offenders pointed out by concerned citizens. But this is incompetence on a truly breathtaking scale!

CFO Gandhi has stated that the audit procedures in place would not detect such embezzlement, which makes you wonder whether there were any procedures in place at all. Let's look at what happened:

The Post has come up with at least 92 suspicious refund checks out of 8,000 (not a very large number) issued since 2000. Virtually all of these were written for more than $100,000, and in recent years the average amount of the phony checks has been more than $400,000! These are REFUND checks, folks. On PROPERTY TAXES! Can you actually imagine how often a situation would legitimately arise in which a taxpayer would be due a refund of that amount? Virtually never. The average amount for "normal" refund checks is around $10,000. But somehow no one noticed. The scandal only surfaced because a bank clerk refused to cash a check for over $300,000. Most of the checks apparently were not mailed out, but "held for pickup" in OTR. And still no one ever noticed anything strange.

Gandhi has demanded the resignation of some of his subordinates (the George Bush school of accountability?), but is insisting on remaining in office. And Fenty is standing by his man.

This is a shining example of the culture of corruption that pervades this city from top to bottom, because nobody ever follows up on where the money goes. I'm sure there's a Pulitzer Prize waiting for some enterprising investigative reporter who would do an in-depth investigation of what happens to all the money that gets poured into DC school maintenance funds (never mind the grotesquely top-heavy administrative staff). Who provides any financial oversight of all the charter schools that have sprung up like mushrooms, feeding off of public funds? (I know of one that purchased several million dollars in real estate a few years ago and is still sitting on empty properties that provide no visible contribution to the school.) The list could go on and on. No wonder no one gives a crap about a few grand spent on elusive laptop computers doled out to cronies of the ANC commissioner. How chickenshit can you get?

Call me naive, but this makes me really angry. And not only because I do pay my taxes and resent the fact that it's so easy for scofflaws not to pay and incur no penalty. It's just goddamn embarassing that the capital city of the United States is such a screwed-up disaster. Who can blame Virginia suburbanites for regarding DC as a laughingstock? We deserve it if we don't demand better. We can't just shrug our shoulders and sigh "Well, that's DC for ya" if we ever expect anything different. There's an election coming up next year, and it's time to make it hot for the complacent councilmembers-for-life who turn a blind eye to the daily grand larceny the DC government aids and abets.