$400,000 is an impressive amount of money to steal from the government:

Federal prosecutors stated in court papers that [Mary] Ayers-Zander, a tax office employee, stole the money between 2007 and January of this year in a scheme that involved fraudulently adjusting withholding credits in four taxpayers’ accounts. By doing so, prosecutors wrote, the District made 48 electronic transfers totalling $365,281 to two personal accounts that Ayers-Zander controlled.

She also fraudulently adjusted withholding credits of five other people, resulting in $46,175 being issued to them, prosecutors alleged.

It’s no $48 million, though.

In cases like these, I always wonder what prompts people to do something so obviously wrong. There are a few obvious reasons: Lots of small thefts never get noticed; some folks have a sense of entitlement or think that theft is proper compensation for what is probably a really thankless job; and possibly, the inefficiency and duplication in the government makes it an easy mark for educated criminals. Still, when people go down, they go down. And that’s the kind of fear that keeps yours truly from taking too many pencils from the City Paper office supply shelf.