- The Washington Times - Thursday, November 3, 2011

Metro hired as an accountant a woman who admitted to being convicted of multiple counts of bank fraud, documents obtained by The Washington Times show, and who faced life in prison after separately being implicated in one of the largest heroin rings in the District.

The woman, not identified in Metro documents, disclosed “several” financial fraud convictions on her job application, but that did not stop the agency from hiring her to assess its finances. After it later learned she also had been charged with involvement in one of the city’s largest drug gangs, the agency did not discipline her or shift her from financial duties because a jury had acquitted her of drug charges - even though the government showed sufficient evidence in other proceedings to permanently seize her bank accounts.

The heroin gang had relied on financial maneuvering to avoid detection and increase its profits, including laundering money and investing in mutual funds.

Metro did not check court records to verify the acquittal, but asked her former attorney the outcome of the case, an internal investigation showed.

The fraud convictions in 1999 stemmed from the woman’s efforts to obtain a loan by establishing a fake Social Security number and date of birth and lying about her salary. Bank officials were tipped off to the impropriety when they determined her legitimate income was not enough to make loan payments. She told Metro she “embellished” her salary to allow her to purchase a car and make payments using “supplemental income from friends.”

Additionally, “the vehicle turned out to be stolen, unknown to me,” the employee’s job application said, adding that she pleaded guilty.

The source of that extra income became clearer in August 2000 when authorities broke up a major gang operating around the Langston Dwelling housing projects in Northeast Washington, rounding up 30 people including the Metro employee and seizing $790,000 in cash, 19 weapons, 16 vehicles and more than 5 kilograms of heroin.

The gang, which was tied to heroin with a street value of $20 million, operated more like a business than a violent enterprise, shying away from homicides and favoring money laundering, prosecutors and police said. Authorities seized more than $43,000 in suspected drug money found in various bank and investment accounts, including the eventual Metro accountant’s.

The employee’s name was redacted from Metro documents obtained by The Times, which say Metro learned of the charges from a U.S. attorney’s office news release. The only female identified in the release was Latonya Denise Curtis, whom prosecutors charged with money laundering in addition to distribution of heroin.

“Latonya Denise Curtis was responsible for providing advice and guidance to the organization as well as assisting the organization to hide and launder the illegal proceeds from the organization’s narcotics trafficking activities,” prosecutors said in the release.

Ms. Curtis also was charged with seven federal counts of bank fraud and found guilty after a jury trial in 1999, court records show.

Metro did not return a request for comment on its hiring practices.

The Times reported Thursday that the state’s attorney’s office in Prince George’s County recently determined that Metro lacked “strict internal oversight and control measures dealing with the accounting, auditing and approval of the use of Metro equipment and funds” that allowed one Metro employee to hoard more than 70 pieces of Metro-owned equipment, including televisions and computers, at his home for years.

After word spread that that worker had been caught, many Metro employees began bringing in agency equipment that apparently had been stored at their homes, managers reported.

The accountant was laid off from Metro last year as part of downsizing efforts unrelated to her conduct.

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