- The Washington Times - Thursday, October 20, 2011

A former tax examiner with the District's Office of Tax and Revenue admitted Thursday to stealing more than $414,000 from the government office over a four-year-period.

Mary Ayers-Zander, 47, of College Park pleaded guilty to wire fraud in federal court and will face between 33 and 63 months in prison, prosecutors said.

Her scheme, in which she issued fraudulent tax refunds that were deposited into her own or others’ banks accounts, began several months before the arrest of another tax office employee, according to court documents. But even after the high-profile arrest of Harriette Walters, who stole more than $48 million from the tax office over 18 years, Ayers-Zander continued issuing the tax refunds until January, officials said.

In all, she issued false tax refunds 58 times before she was fired from the office in June, according to documents filed in U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia.

An investigation of Ayers-Zander was prompted after an audit by the tax office uncovered abnormalities in the amount of tax credits she was issuing, prosecutors said. The audit was part of enhanced techniques used by the office to detect tax fraud and criminal activity after the Walters case.

Natwar M. Gandhi, the District’s chief financial officer, said in a statement that he was pleased that internal controls detected the theft.

Ayers-Zander began working at the office in 2001 as a tax-examining assistant.

She began bilking funds from the office in 2007, when she was promoted to the position of tax-examining technician. At that point, she had the ability to access taxpayers’ accounts and to make adjustments less than $10,000 without a supervisor’s approval.

Ayers-Zander’s attorney said she has cooperated with officials since the beginning of the investigation and regrets the theft.

“She’s very remorseful for what she has done and regrets her actions and is going to attempt to do everything she can to fix the mistakes she’s made,” her attorney, Peter Fayne, said after the plea was entered.

As part of her sentence, Ayers-Zander will be expected to pay back the $414,826 she pocketed and doled out to others through the fraudulent tax refunds. She is scheduled to be sentenced on Feb. 2.