Donors seek answers on Thomas’ charity

Team never registered as a tax-exempt group, suit claims

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When MedStar Health executives received an email from the office of D.C. Council member Harry Thomas Jr. seeking a charitable donation in late 2007, officials said they had little reason to question whether Mr. Thomas‘ charity was real.

Indeed, the solicitation sent on behalf of “Team Thomas” included a so-called 501(c)3 tax-identification number, along with a detailed statement about the group’s work “offering youth the opportunity to participate, enjoy and excel.”

“There was even a flier for a holiday party for children,” said Jean Hitchcock, corporate vice president for public affairs at MedStar, which runs Washington Hospital Center in Mr. Thomas‘ council ward. “To us, this was about helping underprivileged children in the area, so we decided to make the contribution.”

But more than three years after making the $5,000 donation, officials at the health care organization are concerned they might have been hoodwinked.

They’re not alone in having once supported Team Thomas. Dozens of organizations, including several with legislative issues before the D.C. government, contributed more than $80,000 combined to Team Thomas over the years. None of the donations was disclosed to the public.

Despite a reference to tax-exempt status in the fundraising solicitation obtained by The Washington Times, Team Thomas was never registered as a tax-exempt organization with the Internal Revenue Service, according to a fraud lawsuit filed this week against Mr. Thomas by the city’s attorney general.

Mr. Thomas has denied any wrongdoing.

The civil complaint seeks nearly $1 million and accuses Mr. Thomas of using Team Thomas as a personal and political slush fund and misusing private donations and public grant money, including nearly $60,000 that went toward the purchase of a 2008 Audi sport utility vehicle. It also says more than $300,000 in funds from a D.C. Council earmark were funneled to Team Thomas and HTL Development, also controlled by Mr. Thomas and based at his house.

Among other Team Thomas expenditures that the attorney general’s office uncovered were nearly $1,185 spent at the Bali Hai Golf Club in Las Vegas, $1,073 for golf at Pebble Beach, Calif., and $1,602 at a Marriott Resort and Spa.

“We’re conducting an investigation on our end to make sure that the funds were donated appropriately and that the funds were used appropriately,” said Jacqueline Bowens, spokeswoman for Children’s National Medical Center, which also donated $2,500 to Team Thomas in 2008.

Other donors weren’t as eager to talk. The Washington Convention and Tourism Corp., which gave $1,000, told The Washington Times to file a Freedom of Information Act request for information about its donation to Team Thomas.

Mr. Thomas has vowed to fight the lawsuit and has sharply denied any wrongdoing. The U.S. attorney’s office also is investigating. Mr. Thomas‘ attorney, Frederick D. Cooke Jr., said on Tuesday that the fundraising solicitation that noted a 501(c)3, or tax exempt, number may have been at a time when Team Thomas had an application pending seeking that status from the IRS.

Also referred to on the solicitation is “tax ID number.” According to the attorney general, Team Thomas was co-founded by Mr. Thomas in 2000 and dissolved in 2010, and he was the only person with check-writing authority for Team Thomas’ checking account. The articles of incorporation for Team Thomas said the corporation was organized for charitable and educational purposes.

Mr. Cooke said Team Thomas initially sought tax-exempt status but eventually reconsidered. He said the fundraising solicitation may have been sent at a time when the group’s tax-exempt application was pending but before it was abandoned. He said Team Thomas was a nonprofit entity, but it did not have tax-exempt status.

“I think the attorney general’s office operating premise is fundamentally incorrect,” he said of the lawsuit, adding that Team Thomas spent funds on youth-related activities, including baseball clinics.

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