Please ensure Javascript is enabled for purposes of website accessibility

D.C. councilman Harry Thomas Jr. sued over $300K

WASHINGTON — District of Columbia officials sued a council member Monday, accusing him of misusing more than $300,000 in city money intended for youth baseball on an SUV and trips.

Council member Harry Thomas Jr., who represents a section of the city’s northeast and was elected in 2007, is accused of misusing money earmarked for youth baseball in the 2008 budget. A lawsuit against him seeks more than $1 million in damages. He could also face criminal charges.

Thomas and his attorney, Frederick Cooke, told reporters Monday afternoon that Thomas did not commit any wrongdoing and said they were confident he would be vindicated. Cooke confirmed that the attorney general’s office had offered a settlement, but said the terms were unacceptable.

“There is no settlement that I would make that would imply there was some wrongdoing on my part,” Thomas said. “I’m willing to risk everything I have” to fight the allegations.

Thomas said he would not resign his council seat or step down from his chairmanship of the council’s Committee on Economic Development.

According to the lawsuit, in 2007 the D.C. Council budget included $400,000 for youth baseball programs. At Thomas’ direction, most of that money was given as a grant to a group called the Langston 21st Century Foundation, a nonprofit that provides golf programs for youth. The foundation then paid most of the money to Thomas, who himself had a nonprofit called Team Thomas, which was described by Thomas’ office as providing youth golf, softball and baseball programs. Thomas’ group was allegedly going to carry out programs using the grant money.

Despite also collecting nearly $80,000 in donations, the lawsuit says that Team Thomas never actually achieved nonprofit status and had no records of most of its contributions or expenses. Team Thomas did, however, spend money on travel to Las Vegas in 2007 and mailings to Thomas’ Ward 5 constituents, the lawsuit says.

The Langston 21st Century Foundation allegedly transferred grant money to Thomas through both Team Thomas as well as a for-profit corporation he organized. Money given to the for-profit corporation was used to buy an Audi SUV in 2008. Other expenditures on a Team Thomas debit card include travel and more than $1,000 spent at the Pebble Beach Golf Links in California in 2009. Reports from Thomas’ office, meanwhile, said Langston 21 was conducting programs like a “Spring Break Camp” for more than 100 participants that did not happen, according to the lawsuit.

At a news conference, District of Columbia Attorney General Irvin Nathan, who filed the lawsuit on the city’s behalf, said he was also referring the matter to prosecutors for possible criminal charges. Nathan said he was seeking to get “every penny” of the city’s money back.

The accusations against Thomas came to light after his Republican opponent in the 2010 council race said Team Thomas was a fake nonprofit.

Nathan also announced Monday that the city has settled with the heads of Langston 21, who have agreed to repay $86,000 of the earmark money they retained.