Earlier this month the FBI accused Harriette Walters, a 51-year-old veteran employee of the Washington, D.C., Office of Tax and Revenue, of stealing $16 million in phony property tax refunds. After her arrest, the Washington Post discovered another $15 million worth of questionable refunds, bringing Walters' alleged haul to a staggering $31 million.
Walters' division, the District's property-tax-assessment services office, is roughly the size of Dunder Mifflin's Scranton branch, with fewer than 40 employees. Walters managed a small "adjustment" unit of only five people and received very little scrutiny, even after a report by the city auditor indicated an alarming spike in refunds after 2004. Tax revenue for the city skyrocketed along with property values in recent years, masking the large withdrawals. A bank teller who puzzled over Walters' six-figure check deposit finally tipped off the cops.
At least nine FBI agents showed up with search warrants at Walters' unmortgaged home in a well-to-do D.C. neighborhood earlier this month. Below and on the following six pages is an inventory of items removed as evidence. Agents boxed up handbags designed by Vuitton, Hermes, Chanel, Balenciaga, Christian Dior, and Judith Leiber. Steuben glass stemware, a Rolex watch, a Cartier pen, a Faberge egg, hundreds of items of jewelry, and a mink coat were also carted off. There was a Mercedes in the garage. One confiscated item would have been particularly useful: a prepaid card for Legal Services Inc. (See below.) Walters' salary was $81,000 a year.
One co-worker was arrested along with Walters, and several more were fired or put on administrative leave. Inexplicably, despite Walters' generous political contributions and occasional financial assistance to co-workers, nobody in the small office thought Walters' activities or her outsized clothing and jewelry expenses were worth mentioning to the tax-fraud hotline, whose office is on the eighth floor of their building.
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