WASHINGTON — D.C. Councilmember Harry Thomas Jr. was charged Thursday with stealing more than $350,000 in government funds and filing false tax returns.
The two felony counts against Thomas, a 51-year-old Democrat, were detailed in a criminal information filed in U.S. District Court on Thursday. That document typically indicates a defendant intends to plead guilty.
The money Thomas is accused of stealing had been earmarked for District of Columbia 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.
Although a guilty plea would not require Thomas to resign his seat, he appeared to be preparing to do so. Mayor Vincent Gray — himself facing a federal probe for campaign-related activities — and several of Thomas’ council colleagues called on him to step down.
“I urge Councilmember Thomas to resign and focus his time and efforts on defending himself in court,” Gray said in a statement. “While everyone is presumed innocent until proven otherwise, those who violate the public’s trust must be held accountable for their actions. I’m hopeful that this matter will be concluded quickly.”
Staff encouraged to find new jobs
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.
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 home.
Thomas’ attorneys, Seth Rosenthal and Frederick Cooke, did not immediately return calls seeking comment. The U.S. Attorney’s Office declined to comment. A staffer who answered the phone at Thomas’ council office said he was not there and no one who was could comment on the charges.
The Thomas case is one of a series of scandals that have cast a cloud over district government in the past year. 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 also being investigated in relation to his steering more than $200,000 in campaign funds to a firm controlled by his brother in 2008.
Brown said he was disappointed by the charges.
“I have not received Councilmember Thomas’ resignation, but I expect it,” Brown said.
After the charges were filed, Councilmember Muriel Bowser became the fourth of Thomas’ colleagues to ask him to step down. Under district law, officeholders convicted of a felony can continue serving until they go to prison.
Money spent on cars, golf outings
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 to provide 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.
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.”