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Strip club owner gave $6K to Team Thomas

Lawsuit in probe discloses donor list

- The Washington Times - Thursday, June 9, 2011

A prominent local developer and political donor who co-owns a strip club facing Ward 5 resident opposition is the second-highest contributor to D.C. Council member Harry Thomas Jr.'s questionable nonprofit that is now under federal investigation, according to court documents filed this week.

Keith Forney, a co-owner of the Stadium Club whose companies have received more than $90 million in D.C. construction funds since 2000, made separate payments to Team Thomas in 2008 and 2009 totaling $6,000, a lawsuit filed Monday against Mr. Thomas by the D.C. Office of the Attorney General states.

Among the more than 30 contributors identified in the lawsuit - organizations that until Monday could not be identified because Mr. Thomas never registered his nonprofit as a 501(c)(3) - only Comcast contributed more, with a $10,000 donation in June 2008, the lawsuit states.

Some Ward 5 residents are disturbed by the Forney donations and say Mr. Thomas is out of step with their concerns about the Stadium Club, which they claim is a nuisance and a magnet for prostitution.

"I always wondered why Councilman Thomas supported strips clubs moving into Ward 5," said Don Padou, president of the Ward 5 Improvement Association. "Now I know; one of the owners paid Thomas a bunch of money. It is a shame when an elected official will sell out his people for a lousy $6,000."

Mr. Forney's name first surfaced as a Team Thomas contributor in January, when Mr. Thomas dismissed his contributions as "minimal at best." Campaign-finance records show Mr. Forney and his companies also have given $2,700 to Mr. Thomas' Ward 5 constituent-services fund since 2008.

In July of that year, two months after Mr. Forney's first contribution to Team Thomas, Mr. Thomas voted to approve a $7 million contract for Mr. Forney's company to renovate D.C. schools.

On Monday, Mr. Thomas denied that Mr. Forney's contributions influenced him in legislative decisions or in addressing resident protests to the Stadium Club, a business that Mr. Thomas has not opposed.

"This has nothing to do with the Stadium Club," he said.

Mr. Forney did not return calls for comment.

In 2010, Mr. Forney and a partner purchased a partially renovated warehouse at 2127 Queens Chapel Road in Northeast from D.C. gangster legend Cornell Jones for $2.7 million, D.C. land records show. They spent an additional $3 million to turn the Stadium Club into a "world-class establishment," featuring live nude dancing, private rooms, bottle service and a premium steakhouse.

But the property has a tortured history, and resistance to the club by some of Mr. Thomas' constituents has been fierce.

In February, D.C. Council member David A. Catania asked the attorney general's office to investigate whether Miracle Hands, a nonprofit group directed by Mr. Jones, a former drug kingpin who was immortalized in the Black Entertainment Television's "American Gangster" series, received city funds to renovate the property as a job-training center for ex-offenders and HIV/AIDS sufferers, only to prepare the property for sale and eventual use as a strip club.

Mr. Jones has stated on his weekly AM radio show that he has done nothing wrong. He did not return calls for comment.

A spokesman for the attorney general's office this week said the Miracle Hands investigation is ongoing. In addition, a spokesman for the D.C. Office of the Inspector General (OIG) said recently that a federal investigation led by the FBI is "very active."

The FBI also is supporting the U.S. Attorney's Office investigation of Team Thomas, according to an FBI spokesman, who declined to provide details about the Miracle Hands or Team Thomas investigations.

Meanwhile, the Stadium Club is facing protests before the D.C. Court of Appeals and the Board of Zoning Adjustment charging that the property is improperly zoned for a strip club and that a certificate of occupancy should never have been issued because it is a "sexually oriented business."

"Many business owners diversify," Mr. Thomas told The Times in January, insisting the Stadium Club has the support of his ward's most affected residents. "Mr. Forney's shown support for community issues and been a responsible business owner. Those are the issues that represent to me what he does as a businessman."

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