D.C. Council member Thomas pleads guilty

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Former D.C. Council member Harry Thomas Jr. pleaded guilty in federal court on Friday to felony counts of stealing more than $350,000 in city funds and failing to report income on his tax returns.

Thomas, who resigned his position Thursday night after prosecutors officially charged him with the crimes, faces between 37 and 46 months in prison when he is sentenced on May 3, according to federal sentencing guidelines.

Under the federal system, he must serve all of his term with the possibility of a “modest reduction” for good behavior.

Thomas‘ wife and his mother — who nodded as she read from a Bible before the hearing — sat in the second row of U.S. District Judge John D. Bates’ packed courtroom.

“Guilty as charged, your honor,” Thomas told the judge when asked for his plea.

After the hearing, Thomas emerged from the federal courthouse where a throng of reporters, cameras and supporters awaited him. His eyes focused down on a piece of paper, he read from a statement issued Thursday night, apologizing to his family, his constituents and his colleagues. Afterward, Mr. Thomas did not take questions and was hustled to a waiting car.

Prosecutors on Thursday filed documents in U.S. District Court for the District accusing Thomas of stealing $353,000 from youth baseball programs from April 2007 to February 2009 and failing to report a total of $346,000 in additional income on three successive tax returns. It was the first time a sitting council member has been charged with a felony.

In the afternoon, Mayor Vincent C. Gray and council Chairman Kwame R. Brown called on Thomas, who was first elected in 2006, to resign. But a voluntary resignation was already a stipulation of a plea agreement released Friday that Thomas had signed on Dec. 23,

U.S. Attorney Ron Machen said Thomas‘ criminal conduct began shortly after he took office in 2007 and “can only be described as a flagrant abuse of the public’s trust.”

“Time and time again, Thomas used for personal gain taxpayer funds that were intended for the city’s most important resource — its children,” Mr. Machen said at an afternoon press conference.

Federal officials used colorful charts to describe how Thomas funneled public funds through three organizations to fund a lavish lifestyle that included $19,000 for travel, $7,000 for clothes, $5,000 for meals, $23,745 for a Victory motorcycle and $58,575 toward an Audi sport utility vehicle.

Federal agents seized the motorcycle and a Chevy Tahoe, which Thomas acquired when he traded in the Audi, during a raid on his Northeast home on Dec. 2.

Mr. Machen flatly rejected the notion that Thomas was targeted because he is a black politician.

“That’s ludicrous,” he said. “We go after people that break the law.”

Thomas will be required to pay back the money he stole from the District as part of the settlement of a civil lawsuit in June that was brought by D.C. Attorney General Irvin B. Nathan. That lawsuit claimed Thomas used his position to take the funds earmarked for youth sports through the Children and Youth Investment Trust Corporation to purchase the luxury vehicle and pay for trips or other personal expenses.

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