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Court filings outline steering of D.C. lottery deal
In recorded conversation, official suggests ousting winner of bidding
Question of the Day
Documents filed in federal court Thursday portray in vivid detail the efforts of a number of D.C. officials, including then-Council Chairman Vincent C. Gray and Chief Financial Officer Natwar M. Gandhi, to manipulate the outcome of the competitively bid, multimillion-dollar D.C. Lottery contract.
The documents, supported by transcripts of tape-recorded conversations, were filed in response to efforts by the city to resist deposition subpoenas served on now-Mayor Gray and council members Jack Evans and Jim Graham in a wrongful termination lawsuit brought by a former lottery procurement officer.
The officer oversaw the competitive bidding on the lottery in 2008 and was fired after he complained to Mr. Gandhi's Office of Integrity and Oversight and the D.C. inspector general that officials had sought to influence the outcome of the $38 million lottery award.
"Jim Graham is on a personal vendetta here," Angell Jacobs, a supervisor, said to the procurement officer, Eric Payne, according to a transcript of a taped conversation filed in U.S. District Court. "For Gray and Graham, this is all personal. This is about their friends, or who is not their friends for Graham."
The contract was awarded in 2008 to Greek gambling giant Intralot and a local company led by D.C. businessman Warren C. Williams Jr. Mr. Gray, Mr. Graham and Mr. Evans opposed Mr. Williams' involvement and sought to have him removed, according to court papers.
"Can't we just get rid of Williams?" asked Mr. Evans, a lawyer, at an April 2008 meeting attended by Mr. Gandhi, his general counsel David Tseng and then-Lottery Director Jay Young, the court documents state. After being informed by the procurement officer that such measures were not "legally permissible," Mr. Evans replied, "Why not?" the documents state, to which Mr. Gandhi added, "Yeah, why not?"
Mr. Gandhi's office said Thursday that it does not comment on pending litigation.
In an email to The Washington Times, Mr. Graham said it would be inappropriate to answer questions that are the subject of the subpoena.
"I am unable to comment on these allegations. The lawyer for the D.C. Council has advised me against it since this is a matter of pending litigation," he wrote.
In May 2008, the court documents state, Mr. Payne met with Mr. Gray, Mr. Gandhi and others to discuss modifying or canceling the contract award, which Mr. Payne felt "was inappropriate and constituted efforts to unduly influence the contract selection process."
Immediately after the meeting, the court documents state, Mr. Gray and Mr. Gandhi met privately, after which Mr. Gandhi, in the presence of Ms. Jacobs, now chief of staff to Mr. Gandhi, and others "repeatedly cajoled" Mr. Payne to cancel the proposed lottery contract and reopen the process.
The court documents state that a complaint by Mr. Payne prompted an undue influence/fraud investigation by the inspector general later that year. Special Agent Johnnie Bright, a former FBI supervisor, was assigned to the case, the documents state, and told Mr. Payne that she had encountered inappropriate conduct in the District, and assured him she "would not allow these incidents to be swept under the rug."
Reached at her home recently, Ms. Bright referred questions back to the inspector general, who through a spokesman declined to comment.
As The Times has reported, the contract eventually was rejected by Mr. Gray and his council colleagues and rebid, with Intralot winning the second award as a sole bidder in 2009. Informed that the contract would not be approved by the council without a local partner, Intralot entered into an agreement with Maryland businessman Emmanuel S. Bailey, who assumed a 51 percent share of the lottery profits through a subcontracting arrangement with Intralot.
That partnership took place months after a private meeting with Mr. Gray in his office with Mr. Bailey and Intralot lobbyist Kevin P. Chavous.
David P. Gragan, former chief procurement officer for the District, and former Attorney General Peter J. Nickles called for a new inspector general investigation of the final contract approval in 2010 but, as The Times recently reported, it went nowhere. Mr. Evans recently spoke with Inspector General Charles J. Willoughby and was assured the inspector general was acting on the request.
The inspector general has the authority to refer evidence of criminal violations to the U.S. Department of Justice.
While the second round of bidding was fraught with irregularities, according to Mr. Gragan and Mr. Nickles, the first round was mired in political rivalries and efforts by D.C. officials to influence a competitive process governed by District procurement law, the court documents filed Thursday state.
At one point, the documents state, Mr. Graham told Mr. Payne to contact Advisory Neighborhood Commissioner Dottie Love Wade, who informed the officer she had lottery experience. Later, the original Intralot partnership complained to the procurement officer that Ms. Wade offered Mr. Graham's support if she received a "stay at home job, a car and other perks," which the company reportedly denied, the documents state.
Recently, The Times also reported on an email exchange between members of the Intralot team and lawyer A. Scott Bolden, who represents Mr. Williams, in which Mr. Graham allegedly offered to support Mr. Williams' contract award with Intralot if he would agree to withdraw from an unrelated Metro contract award he had won with a company aligned with former Mayor Adrian M. Fenty, the main nemesis of Mr. Gray.
"This is complete bs and we are getting very close to corruption, bid rigging and other inappropriate conduct and I am not going to be a part of it," Mr. Bolden advised his clients, according to the widely distributed emails obtained by The Times.
Mr. Gray and Mr. Evans, who has vowed to hold hearings on the lottery contract and an online poker proposal, did not respond to requests for comment.
Mr. Bolden, in a statement, said: "Mr. Payne's affidavit speaks for itself and it speak volumes in connection to the D.C. Council's inappropriate involvement in the original D.C. Lottery procurement process. This sworn testimony now confirms my client's worst fears."
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