DC Councilman, Harry Thomas Jr., Resigns Post Ahead of Guilty Plea

Harry ThomasA D.C. councilmember charged with stealing
more than $350,000 in government funds and filing false tax returns
announced his resignation Thursday and plans to plead guilty, bringing
an end to one of several recent scandals that have plagued District of
Columbia government.


Harry Thomas Jr., a
51-year-old Democrat, was charged earlier in the day in a criminal
information following plea discussions between his attorneys and federal
prosecutors. That document typically indicates a defendant’s intention
to plead guilty, and a plea hearing was scheduled for Friday morning in
federal court in Washington.

After facing
calls for his resignation throughout the day from Mayor Vincent Gray and
from several colleagues, Thomas issued a statement through his lawyer
Thursday night saying he would step down, effectively immediately. He
apologized for what he called “very serious mistakes” and “inadequate
and flawed judgment.”

“As a Councilmember and
throughout my life, I have dedicated myself to serving the residents and
the youth of Washington, D.C. In the pursuit of this work, I made some
poor decisions and acted in ways I simply should not have,” Thomas said
in the statement. “I was wrong.”

Within the
past two weeks, Thomas has encouraged his remaining staff to search for
new jobs, according to multiple council employees with knowledge of his
actions who spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not
authorized to disclose that information.

The
money Thomas will admit to stealing had been earmarked for youth sports
programs, according to a lawsuit filed last June by the district’s
attorney general. The criminal information does not detail what Thomas
did with the alleged stolen funds.

Thomas was
previously accused of spending the stolen money on a luxury SUV, travel
and rounds of golf. He agreed to pay back $300,000 in a civil settlement
with the attorney general, although he missed a scheduled $50,000
payment that was due Tuesday.

The tax return charge accuses Thomas of failing to report $356,000 in income between 2007 and 2009.

Thomas
was also ordered to forfeit an SUV and a motorcycle that were seized
last month by federal agents who raided his northeast Washington home.

The U.S. Attorney’s Office declined to comment.

Other
district officials are facing federal scrutiny. Gray’s campaign
staffers have been accused of giving cash and promising a government job
to a minor mayoral candidate in exchange for that person’s withering
criticism of then-Mayor Adrian Fenty in 2010.

Council
Chairman Kwame Brown is being investigated in relation to his steering
more than $200,000 in campaign funds to a firm controlled by his brother
in 2008. Brown, who had earlier said he expected Thomas to resign, said
late Thursday that he was saddened and disappointed.

“It
is a somber day for District residents and I believe that we will
prevail as we have before through tumultuous times,” the council
chairman said in a statement.

Councilmember
Mary Cheh, who called on Thomas to resign last summer, told The
Associated Press that she was shocked by the brazenness of his actions.

“This
is a direct diversion of funds. To use the word that makes it obvious
to the public, this is stealing public money,” Cheh said. “I don’t think
what we’re talking about with the other investigations is really that
stark a breach of the public trust.”

Three
other councilmembers had asked Thomas to step down. Under district law,
officeholders convicted of a felony can continue serving until they go
to prison.

Thomas’ late father was a longtime
D.C. councilmember. The younger Thomas was elected in 2006 to represent
Ward 5, a majority-black, mixed-income section of the district that
includes parts of its northeast and northwest quadrants. He was
re-elected in 2010.

According to the district
attorney general’s lawsuit, Thomas steered the money into a nonprofit
that provides golf programs for youth. That group then paid most of the
grant money to an organization under Thomas’ control, known as Team
Thomas, the lawsuit said.

Team Thomas was
supposed to use the funds for youth sports programs. But instead, Thomas
spent the money on himself, buying a luxury SUV and traveling to
exclusive golf courses including Pebble Beach Golf Links in California,
the lawsuit said.

Tim Day, the former
Republican candidate for Thomas’ seat who first alerted district
authorities to irregularities with Team Thomas, said resignation would
help “cure our city of this ethical cancer.”

“I
hope this brings some closure so Ward 5 can have the positive attention
and representation it deserves,” Day said in a statement.

Thomas’s
resignation is expected to trigger a special election to choose his
replacement within about four months, at a cost of hundreds of thousands
of dollars to district taxpayers.

Despite the
allegations, Thomas still enjoys some support in his ward. Robert King,
a neighborhood commissioner who chaired Thomas’ 2006 campaign, said he
was struggling to come to grips with the idea that his friend might have
stolen money.

“I’m having a hard time trying
to believe that he would take any money from the children,” King said
Wednesday as reports were surfacing about an imminent plea deal. “He’s
been more involved in athletics and baseball than he’s been involved in
politics. That is his first love.”

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