D.C. Council member Jim Graham is using his oversight powers to launch a formal investigation into whether staff at a public-private nonprofit "and perhaps others" paved the way for former city lawmaker Harry Thomas Jr. to pocket more than $350,000 in city funds intended for youth sports programs.
Mr. Graham, Ward 1 Democrat, also plans to convene a "blue ribbon task force" of stakeholders from the private sector to discuss reforms or a restructuring of the Children & Youth Investment Trust Corp., after a lengthy inquiry by his Committee on Human Services indicated lax oversight by the trust enabled the disgraced politician's scheme.
Mr. Graham and committee members Tommy Wells, Ward 6 Democrat, Marion Barry, Ward 8 Democrat, and Michael A. Brown, at-large independent, adopted a resolution Friday to provide the committee with subpoena power in their investigation.
But first, Mr. Graham had to ensure committee members that he will keep them in the loop during the investigation and not wield their subpoena powers too loosely. He also pledged to respect the boundaries between their oversight function and an ongoing proble by the U.S. Attorney for the District.
"We are not interested in a criminal inquiry here at all," Mr. Graham said from the dais. "But what we are interesting in doing is having an investigation that will lead to the restoration of confidence in the trust."
He said some people have refused to cooperate with his inquiries into the trust but may change their minds once they face a formal investigation.
Mr. Graham said the investigation could include both document-gathering and testimony at public hearings, although it is unclear if it will reach the high-profile status of a council investigation last year into actions by Mayor Vincent C. Gray's campaign and transition team.
Mr. Barry encouraged Mr. Graham not to let the investigation turn into a "big spectacle" or a "field day" for the media.
Mr. Graham's committee has already interviewed key players and reviewed more than 1,500 emails to draft a report on how Thomas, Ward 5 Democrat, and his staff were able to influence trust officials and fast-track money to the Langston 21st Century Foundation, a golf-related nonprofit in Thomas' ward, from 2007 to 2009.
Federal prosecutors say Thomas directed the Langston funds to his own nonprofit and for-profit entities to fund a lavish lifestyle.
Mr. Graham's report said Thomas had help from known and unknown agents as the money flowed through the trust. While the trust appeared to operate honorably in most regards, Thomas' priorities garnered favors, according to the findings.
"In the very same month that the Trust excused Langston from reporting and documentation, we found examples of the Trust delaying — and threatening to deny — final payments to other grantees until compliance occurred," the report said.
The report said former trust CEO Millicent West "ignored or dismissed staff concerns" during her tenure about a lack of program and expenditure reports on the Langston grant and proceeded with payments. Earlier this year, Ms. West resigned from her job as director of the D.C. Department of Homeland Security and Emergency Management.
More recently, the trust's board ousted CEO Ellen London, Ms. West's successor, in response to emails that show Ms. London was included an email loop that discussed the Thomas grants and their potential shortcomings.
Thomas faces a prison term of more than three years at his sentencing in federal court on Thursday. He resigned and pleaded guilty in January to stealing public funds and filing false tax returns, ending a legal saga that began with a lawsuit from D.C. Attorney General Irvin B. Nathan in June.
"Former Councilmember Thomas is being held accountable for his actions," Mr. Graham's report said. "However, we find that his criminal actions could not have occurred without the actions of Trust staff and perhaps others, in ignoring well established procedures and policies that were tellingly applied in the very same period to other grantees and earmark recipients."
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Tom Howell Jr. covers politics for The Washington Times. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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