- The Washington Times - Tuesday, June 30, 2009

UPDATED:

The mastermind of the biggest swindle in D.C. government history was sentenced Tuesday morning to 17 1/2 years in prison.

Harriette Walters, a former city Office of Tax and Revenue manager, received the sentence from Judge Emmet G. Sullivan in U.S. District Court.

He said the sentence “sends a message to anyone who wants to commit this type of crime in the District of Columbia.”

Mrs. Walters faced 15 to 18 years in prison under a plea agreement. The scheme spanned two decades and involved Mrs. Walters approving hundreds of fraudulent property-tax refunds, then funneling the money to family, friends and co-workers.

Judge Sullivan said Mrs. Walters received a year in prison for every year she committed the crime.

She is not eligible for parole, but the sentence could be shortened for time already served.

Mrs. Walters also will have to forfeit $48 million and pay roughly $16 million in federal and city taxes.

“I stand before your honor in full repentance of a crime I accepted full responsibility for,” she told the judge. “I made poor decisions. I had poor behavior.”

Eleven people have pleaded guilty in the scheme, and more than 30 tax office employees were forced to resign.

Mrs. Walters, 52, is the only city employee charged in the crime.

She was arrested and jailed in 2007 after the scheme unraveled. She pleaded guilty in September to wire fraud, money laundering and other charges.

Defense attorneys had tried to portray Mrs. Walters as a benefactor who helped those close to her.

In the roughly three-hour sentencing hearing Tuesday, they said her stealing was connected to “complex psychological needs” and asked Judge Sullivan to take into consideration during sentencing Mrs. Walters‘ failing health and cooperation with investigators.

Prosecutors repeatedly had said Mrs. Walters lavished people with gifts to perpetuate the scheme.

The catalog of her spending on designer clothes, a Rolex watch, a U.S. Virgin Islands home, Washington Wizards season tickets, a 2005 Bentley and other luxury items outraged city residents.

Prosecutors said Tuesday they have recovered only $10 million in property, which might fetch more at an upcoming auction.

A report commissioned by the D.C. Council stated that systemic failures, a lack of oversight and a dysfunctional work environment led to the theft from city coffers.

The 120-page report also stated the scheme worked in part because of a “culture of apathy and silence” in city offices.


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