Thomas’ guilty plea months in the making

Resignation was part of the deal

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U.S. Attorney Ron Machen had for months heard the public’s cry for him to say whether D.C. Council member Harry Thomas Jr. indeed had stolen from city taxpayers.

On Friday, hours after Mr. Thomas, Ward 5 Democrat, pleaded guilty in federal court to two felony charges, Mr. Machen revealed that he and his staff had in fact worked for months around the clock and at “light speed” to answer the question of Thomas‘ guilt or innocence.

Thomas resigned from the D.C. Council on Thursday night and pleaded guilty the next day to stealing more than $350,000 in taxpayer funds and failing to report income on his tax returns, after prosecutors officially charged him with the crimes.

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

The moment largely closed the roughly six-month saga that started with accusations in court documents that Thomas had used city funds intended for youth-baseball programs for such personal expenses as golfing at Pebble Beach and included federal agents raiding his home Dec. 2.

Thomas is scheduled to be sentenced May 3 and faces 37 to 46 months in prison in accordance with federal sentencing guidelines. Under the federal system, he must serve all of his term with the possibility of a “modest reduction” for good behavior.

Documents filed Thursday in U.S. District Court show Thomas took the money from April 2007 to February 2009 and failed to report a total of $346,000 in additional income on three successive tax returns. It was the first time a sitting D.C. Council member has been charged with a felony.

The filing resulted in widespread calls for Thomas‘ resignation, including ones from Mayor Vincent C. Gray and council Chairman Kwame R. Brown. Unknown to them was that the plea - which Thomas signed Dec. 23 - including a stipulation that he resign.

Thomas was first elected to the council in 2006. Mr. Machen said his 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,” he said.

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 the December raid on his Northeast home.

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 repay the money as part of the settlement of a civil lawsuit in June that was brought by D.C. Attorney General Irvin B. Nathan. The lawsuit said Thomas used his position to take the funds earmarked for youth sports through the Children’s Youth Investment Trust Corp. to purchase the luxury vehicle and pay for the trips and the other personal expenses.

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