Authorities have charged two employees of the District of Columbia's Office of Tax and Revenue with stealing more than $16 million in illegal property tax refunds.

They later upped the estimate to $20 million. The two employees, Harriette Walters and Diane Gustus, allegedly used the money to pay for homes, vehicles, jewelry, luxury clothing, designer handbags and other items, including $1.4 million in merchandise from Neiman-Marcus. They got help in the scheme from relatives and other workers in the tax department, as well as bank employees. Four officials in the tax office have resigned for failing to catch the scheme sooner.

The scam dates back to at least 2001. Three other people were also charged, including family members of Walters who allegedly provided sham company accounts where the fraudulent tax refund checks could be deposited. Some of the money went to a money exchange institution in the Dominican Republic.

Questions arose this summer when a bank employee refused to cash a $410,000 refund check. At least 42 separate fraudulent refund checks were identified, averaging over $388,000 each.

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