Former D.C. Council member Thomas sentenced to 38 months in prison

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Former D.C. council member Harry Thomas Jr. was sentenced Thursday to 38 months in prison for stealing more than $350,000 in public funds, a “case of betrayal” that swapped his reputation as a mentor to young athletes for the shame of becoming the District’s first elected official to be convicted of a felony.

U.S. District Judge John D. Bates weighed Thomas‘ track record of service to Little League Baseball and other programs in Ward 5 against the “irony” of his extensive theft of youth sports-related funds to buy a luxury vehicle, go on lavish trips and purchase three pairs of what prosecutors termed “exotic shoes.”

“This is my weakest moment, the lowest moment of my life,” Thomas said, after testimony from his mother, Romaine, and other supporters.

Thomas asked to be sent to either of two federal prison camps — in Pensacola, Fla., or Montgomery, Ala. — but he was not immediately provided a date to report for his term.

The U.S. attorney for the District had asked the court to impose a 46-month term for Thomas‘ scheme, in which he directed funds through the Children & Youth Investment Trust Corp. to organizations of his choosing, then skimmed off money for himself.

Thomas resigned in January before pleading guilty to the theft of public funds and filing false tax returns, yet his actions continue to reverberate in city hall, as the council takes a close look at the public-private trust that handled Thomas‘ grants and regroups from a scandal-plagued year.

Before a full courtroom, Assistant U.S. Attorney Jonathan Haray said Thomas enjoyed a supportive family and political connections from his father, the late Harry Thomas Sr., who also served on the D.C. Council representing Ward 5 from 1987 to 1998. Instead of continuing on a path of service, the younger Thomas devised an “all-time low” for the taxpayers of the District, he said.

“The message is simple,” Mr. Haray said. “If you steal from the people you are sworn to serve, you will pay a high price.”

Defense attorneys requested an 18-month term, noting Thomas‘ crimes only represent a “snapshot” of his life and evidence that incarceration does not serve the public any more than court probation after crimes such as his.

“My heart is heavy, full of anguish and wrapped in pain,” Romaine Thomas told the court, before both chiding her son for his crimes and asking the judge for “mercy and leniency.”

In his turn before the judge, Thomas gave his strongest words of contrition to date. He said he fell prey to a sense of entitlement and “somehow I lost my moral compass.”

“I’ve humiliated my family,” he said. “They’ve endured what no family should endure, because of me.”

Judge Bates said he thought Thomas was remorseful and he could not and would not “totally ignore your record of community service.” Yet he also struck a firm tone with Thomas about the severity of his crime.

“This is a case of betrayal,” Judge Bates said, adding that Thomas took it upon himself to violate the trust of the public, his council colleagues, his family and the youth the funds were intended for. “It was his idea. No one else brought this concept to him.”

During the course of the hearing, the prosecution disputed the often-quoted figure for how much money Thomas stole. Prosecutors said that the figure was not $353,500, but it was $446,000 after adding in money diverted from a youth drug-abuse prevention fund to cover expenses for an inaugural ball held at the John A. Wilson Building in January 2009.

That figure, which Thomas is responsible for repaying, will be determined at a future hearing. Thomas will remain on supervised release for three years after his prison term and must forfeit the 2008 Victory Motorcycle and the 2008 Chevy Tahoe that federal agents seized at his home in December, although the judge did not impose any fine.

The culmination of the Thomas case arrives as murmurs continue to swirl around federal probes of campaign activities by the city’s top two politicians — Mayor Vincent C. Gray and council Chairman Kwame R. Brown. While the future of those investigations is uncertain, both men quickly released statements on Thursday in reaction to the sentencing.

“While I remain deeply disappointed and troubled by what happened, it’s clear that justice has been done and Mr. Thomas will be held responsible for his actions,” Mr. Gray said.

Mr. Brown said there is “no excuse for violating the trust of public office” and that his prayers are with Thomas‘ family.

D.C. Attorney General Irvin B. Nathan, who kicked off Thomas‘ legal saga with a lawsuit against him in June, said the sentence marked a “just resolution to this sad matter.”

Suspicions of Thomas and his pair of nonprofit and for-profit entities — Team Thomas and HLT Swingaway — gathered steam during the 2010 election season when the D.C. Republican Committee and its Ward 5 candidate, Tim Day, raised questions about the organizations’ status and management of city funds. An investigation determined that Thomas used the public-private trust as a pass-through for grants to organizations of his choosing, predominantly the golf-affiliated Langston 21st Century Foundation in Ward 5, before pocketing the money.

Two principles at Langston, Marshall D. Banks and James Garvin, have pleaded guilty to concealing a felony and await sentencing.

Thomas did not address his crimes after his sentencing hearing, which lasted more than two hours. Instead, he exited a side door of the courthouse and hopped into the back seat of a waiting sport utility vehicle.
Amid a throng of news cameras, the silver BMW whisked him away and disappeared down Pennsylvania Avenue.

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