- The Washington Times - Sunday, July 24, 2011

Two D.C. Council members are calling on Harry Thomas Jr. to resign his council seat after he settled a lawsuit brought by the city accusing him of using money from a charity he operated as a personal slush fund.

“In Mr. Thomas‘ settlement, he was not required to and did not admit to any wrongdoing,” council member Mary M. Cheh said Saturday. “Nevertheless, it appears that he inappropriately diverted public money intended for youth activities to his own benefit. This implicit acknowledgement will, I believe, make it very difficult for him to continue to effectively serve the citizens of the District. Therefore, I hope he will seriously consider stepping off the council.”

The statement by Mrs. Cheh, Ward 3 Democrat, came shortly after a similar one from council member David Catania, at-large independent.

“By virtue of Friday’s settlement, council member Thomas has declined to offer a full accounting of his actions,” he said. “The residents of the District of Columbia deserve better. With such serious allegations unanswered and an ongoing investigation by the U.S. attorney, I believe that council member Thomas should resign.”

D.C. Attorney General Irvin B. Nathan on Friday announced Mr. Thomas, Ward 5 Democrat, had agreed to repay $300,000 in grant money that he is accused of using for personal golfing trips, hotel stays and a new sport utility vehicle. The settlement came after the attorney general last month filed a $1 million lawsuit against Mr. Thomas.

Mr. Thomas still faces an active criminal investigation by the U.S. attorney for the District and possible political ramifications when the council reconvenes from its summer recess in September.

Mr. Thomas said Friday the settlement was in the “best interest of the city” and denied “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.”

Mr. Thomas has already stepped down from his post as chairman of the council’s Committee on Government Operations, amid pressure from his colleagues. Under the terms of the settlement, Mr. Thomas is precluded from directing or soliciting charitable donations in the District - except for his constituent services fund.

Mrs. Cheh also said the terms of the legal settlement, which require Mr. Thomas to repay the money by the end of 2013, “may raise additional concerns if any efforts at fundraising will be involved.”

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

The council member 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 principals as James Garvin and Marshall Banks.