- The Washington Times - Thursday, December 22, 2011

An elected official who stole $30,000 from D.C. taxpayers and spent it on a luxury car and designer clothes will have to repay the money — without penalty — at a rate of $200 a month, according to a settlement announced Thursday by the D.C. Office of the Attorney General.

The D.C. auditor in June determined that William Shelton withdrew $30,000 from an Advisory Neighborhood Commission (ANC) 5B account and spent it on payments for a Lexus and purchases at Bloomingdale’s. Mr. Shelton was chairman of the ANC in Ward 5, one of 37 lightly scrutinized boards of elected officials.

“I believe this is a fair resolution of the situation. Mr. Shelton is no longer in a position to access public funds and he is obligated to repay what he improperly took,” D.C. Attorney General Irvin B. Nathan said in an e-mail to the Washington Times.

Mr. Nathan said his office took into account that Mr. Shelton and his attorney cooperated with the investigation and did not require the city to expend resources investigating and litigating the case.

But council member Tommy Wells, Ward 6 Democrat, said the attorney general's office can demand triple the amount of money at issue, known as treble damages.

“What was his reason for not going after treble damages?” Mr. Wells asked.

The settlement does not preclude separate criminal action against Mr. Shelton, but he has not faced criminal charges in the months since the money went missing and he resigned from his seat on the ANC, of which he was chairman.

A U.S. attorney’s office spokesman said it would not confirm or deny an investigation, but sources said the office was looking into the case.

The D.C. attorney general's office can only prosecute misdemeanor criminal cases.

There was no indication the settlement contained any other provisions, such as barring Mr. Shelton from running again for office.

In the meantime, Mr. Shelton does not appear to have stepped back from local politics.

Vaughn Bennett, an ANC5B commissioner, said Mr. Shelton’s signature and the signatures of four other people who listed his address as their residence topped the nominating petition of an associate of Mr. Shelton’s who sought to replace him in office.

Mr. Shelton did not return a call for comment.

According to the settlement plan, Mr. Shelton will be making interest-free payments for more than a dozen years after emptying the commission’s coffers using an ATM card he obtained.

Critics say the settlement is one of a series of seemingly weak recent enforcement actions from the attorney general's office, particularly concerning allegations of public corruption in Ward 5.

“It’s almost like an interest-free loan that’s been given to him,” Mr. Bennett said. “What right does the city have to give that to him? This will show that for someone who has stolen money blatantly from the city, there’s no repercussion.”

In another penalty-free settlement, council member Harry Thomas Jr., Ward 5 Democrat, agreed to repay the city $300,000 in public funds he was accused of diverting from youth baseball programs.

The city auditor in September asked the D.C. inspector general to investigate financial irregularities by the head of the Ward 5 Metropolitan Police Department Citizens’ Advisory Council, Robert V. Brannum. The auditor investigated after the group’s treasurer, Debbie Smith-Steiner, resigned and said funds could not be accounted for and the council’s leadership was not concerned.

Mr. Brannum, like Mr. Shelton, has not been criminally charged. Mr. Thomas’s home was raided by federal authorities this month, but he, too, has not been charged.

Asked about the settlement and the situation in the ward he represents, Mr. Thomas said, “I’m not going to comment on that for a lot of different reasons.”

Mrs. Smith-Steiner said the situations appeared straightforward and she wondered whether the cases — especially the lower-profile ones — were a law-enforcement priority.

“Where is the actual system that is supposed to be vigilant in bringing criminal justice?”

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