July 25, 2011 Leave a comment
Harry Thomas’s unsatisfying settlement
By Editorial, Published: July 23
THE AGREEMENT by D.C. Council member Harry Thomas Jr. (D-Ward 5) to repay the District the taxpayer dollars he was accused of diverting for his personal and political use spares the city the expense of proving its case in court. It also spares Mr. Thomas from having to own up to his actions, and that’s too high a price. The continued service of Mr. Thomas on the council is an affront that should not be tolerated any longer.
Attorney General Irvin B. Nathan announced Friday that his office had reached a settlement over claims that money earmarked for youth programs was used by Mr. Thomas for items such as a luxury car and golf vacations. Mr. Thomas agreed to repay $300,000, transfer ownership of various sports equipment to youth groups and to refrain for five years from heading up any charitable organization. The settlement was accompanied by an initial payment of $50,000. In return, the District dropped a civil lawsuit that had sought $1 million in penalties and other costs.
Mr. Nathan was acting in the city’s interests in recouping its money, but the agreement doesn’t provide needed answers. It maddeningly allows Mr. Thomas to insist, as he did Friday, that there was no wrongdoing on his behalf. “These actions are being taken to ensure that the trust the public has placed in me is maintained and honored,” he had the temerity to proclaim. Well, if Mr. Thomas did nothing wrong, why did he agree to give the city $300,000? Where will the money come from? How come he has never accounted — despite repeated promises — for his actions?
The lawsuit brought by Mr. Nathan detailed with convincing evidence damning allegations of a council member abusing the trust placed in him to loot the city treasury. Golf at Pebble Beach, an Audi SUV and $143.71 to Hooters all apparently were put on the District’s tab. According to the lawsuit, money budgeted by the council in 2007 for youth baseball was directed by Mr. Thomas to the Langston 21st Century Foundation, which, in turn, funneled it to Team Thomas, the nonprofit founded and controlled by Mr. Thomas. The council member also solicited contributions from private concerns, including some who did business with the city. Because the settlement was reached on the very day he was ordered to respond to the lawsuit, Mr. Thomas was off the hook on having to answer the charges.
“Taxpayers are owed an answer — not a settlement,” said council member David Catania (I-At Large) as he rightly called on Mr. Thomas to resign. Council member Mary M. Cheh (D-Ward 3) said Mr. Thomas should consider resigning, but other council members and Mayor Vincent C. Gray (D) stayed mum about the obscenity of Mr. Thomas continuing to collect a paycheck from the city he stands accused of defrauding.
The settlement does not shield Mr. Thomas from possible criminal prosecution, but it is likely that his attorneys — who now include noted defender Abbe Lowell — will try to use it as a bargaining chip with the U.S. Attorney’s Office, which is conducting its own review of Mr. Thomas’s activities. We hope that U.S. Attorney Ronald Machen insists on getting the answers that Mr. Thomas has so far refused to provide.
Kevin Wrege, Esq.
Founder & President
Pulse Issues & Advocacy LLC
4410 Massachusetts Ave., NW, #150
Washington, DC 20016