D.C. sues council member Thomas; federal case filed

$1M suit claims misuse of funding

The city government has accused D.C. Council member Harry Thomas Jr. of using grant money and donations for trips and expenditures. (Rod Lamkey Jr./The Washington Times)The city government has accused D.C. Council member Harry Thomas Jr. of using grant money and donations for trips and expenditures. (Rod Lamkey Jr./The Washington Times)

The District government Monday filed a $1 million civil lawsuit against D.C. Council member Harry Thomas Jr., accusing the Ward 5 Democrat of using grant money and charitable donations for personal golfing trips, hotel stays and a new sport utility vehicle.

At the same time, federal prosecutors confirmed for the first time that Mr. Thomas also is the focus of an ongoing criminal investigation by the U.S. attorney's office for the District of Columbia.

District Attorney General Irvin B. Nathan said a five-month investigation by his office found that more than $300,000 intended for youth baseball programs and other charitable purposes as part of the 2008 budget was passed through multiple organizations, then to Mr. Thomas for his personal use.

“Those funds are all gone,” Mr. Nathan said of the monies provided by the District government and private donors. “We don’t know where they are, but we want them back for the city.”

Mr. Thomas, who represents much of the city’s Northeast area, refuted the attorney general’s allegations at an afternoon news conference.

Flanked by his attorney, Frederick D. Cooke Jr., D.C. Council member Harry Thomas Jr. (right) refuted the city attorney general's allegations regarding the use of grant money and charitable donations at an afternoon news conference. (Rod Lamkey Jr./The Washington Times)

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Flanked by his attorney, Frederick D. Cooke Jr., D.C. Council member Harry ... more >

“Allegations are allegations, fact is fact,” he told reporters outside the John A. Wilson Building.

The suit is the most recent setback for a city council whose reputation has been marred by allegations and investigations related to the misuse of public funds.

A council committee is looking into potential nepotism and questionable hiring practices by the administration of Mayor Vincent C. Gray, a Democrat.

Council Chairman Kwame Brown received two luxury Lincoln Navigators, leased with taxpayer money, after rejecting the first because he didn’t like the color of the interior. And the D.C. Office of Campaign Finance is investigating Council member Yvette Alexander, Ward 7 Democrat, for her questionable use of constituent service funds.

Mr. Thomas said he will fight for his legacy, refuse any settlement offer that suggests he did anything wrong, and would not resign his council seat or the chairmanship of the Council’s Committee on Economic Development.

Asked directly if he diverted funds from youth programs to his personal use, Mr. Thomas said, “Absolutely not.”

Mr. Thomas, re-elected last year to a second term, has come 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.

The attorney general's office said Mr. Thomas also is accused of soliciting 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 office also accused the council member of writing 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.

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