- The Washington Times - Friday, July 22, 2011

D.C. Council member Harry Thomas Jr. has agreed to pay back $300,000 in grant money that he is accused of using for personal golfing trips, hotel stays and a new sport utility vehicle, the Office of the Attorney General said Friday.

The civil settlement requires Mr. Thomas, Ward 5 Democrat, to pay $50,000 on Friday and the rest in five installments over the next two years, D.C. Attorney General Irvin B. Nathan said.

It does not require Mr. Thomas to admit to any wrongdoing, although he is still the subject of a federal criminal probe.

The settlement precludes Mr. Thomas from directing or soliciting charitable donations in the District — except for his constituent services fund — and requires him to donate $50,000 worth of equipment to a D.C. affiliate of Little League Baseball.

A resolution to the civil case is not the end of the road for Mr. Thomas, who had to step aside from his valued committee post in the wake of the city’s complaint filed on June 6. He still faces an active criminal investigation by the U.S. Attorney for the District and any political ramifications when the council reconvenes from its summer recess in September.

In a statement, Mr. Thomas said a settlement was in the “the best interest of the city” and he denied any “purposeful misuse” of public funds.

“I have committed my life to teaching life skills to children through sports and athletic competition,” he said. “The discipline and strenuous rigors that I teach through coaching and mentoring were lacking in the management of the organization.”

William Miller, a spokesman for U.S. Attorney for the District Ronald C. Machen, said his office is still reviewing Mr. Thomas‘ case. He declined to comment whether the settlement affects their investigation.

Mayor Vincent C. Gray’s office said the mayor is “pleased” that Mr. Thomas‘ case “has come to a quick resolution.”

“I applaud Attorney General Irv Nathan and his staff for achieving a settlement, particularly one that will benefit District of Columbia children,” he said.

The attorney general accused Mr. Thomas of bilking more than $300,000 in funds earmarked by the council in 2007 for youth sports programs, plus $80,000 in private donations, to pay for personal travel and an Audi sport utility vehicle.

Mr. Nathan said a five-month investigation revealed the funds were passed from the D.C. Children and Youth Investment Trust Corporation to multiple organizations, before they arrived in Mr. Thomas‘ hands.

On the same day, federal prosecutors confirmed for the first time that they were investigating Mr. Thomas.

Mr. Thomas repeatedly denied the claims surrounding his nonprofit and for-profit entities and vowed not to accept a settlement offer that required an admission of wrongdoing.

He stepped aside from his role as chairman of the Committee on Economic Development, two days after the suit was filed, under pressure from his colleagues. The move set off a shake-up of committee leadership and exposed the political allegiances of some members on the council.

Economic development duties are now shared by Council Chairman Kwame R. Brown in his Committee of the Whole and council member Vincent Orange, at-large Democrat, who chairs the newly formed Committee on Small and Local Business Development.

Mr. Thomas is serving his second term representing Ward 5. His late father, Harry Thomas Sr., represented the ward for three terms.

Mr. Thomas had been under scrutiny largely over Team Thomas, a nonprofit he co-founded in 2000. The organization purportedly ran children´s sports programs until it was dissolved last December.

The attorney general’s office said more than $300,000 in grant funds went to Langston 21st Century Foundation, a purported youth sports and education nonprofit, which is suspected of secretly giving most of the funds to Mr. Thomas through his nonprofit and for-profit organizations. Official documents identify the foundation principles as James Garvin and Marshall Banks.

Mr. Nathan’s office previously settled with principals of the Langston foundation for $86,000.

The attorney general also alleged Mr. Thomas solicited more than $80,000 from private donors on behalf of Team Thomas, which was never registered in the city to do so, and used a Team Thomas debit card to spend more than $20,000 on personal travel and entertainment use — including $1,185 and $1,073 for respective golf trips to Las Vegas and Pebble Beach, Calif.

The complaint said Mr. Thomas wrote thousands of dollars in checks from the nonprofit´s bank account to himself, his for-profit company, HLT Development, or to “cash” and using $58,000 in funds to buy an Audi Quattro sport utility vehicle, which is registered in his name.