- The Washington Times - Saturday, July 23, 2011

Two D.C. Council members on Saturday called on Harry Thomas Jr. to resign his council seat after he settled a lawsuit brought by the city accusing him of using money from a charity he operated as a personal slush fund.

“In Mr Thomas’ settlement, he was not required to and did not admit to any wrongdoing; nevertheless it appears that he inappropriately diverted public money intended for youth activities to his own benefit,” D.C. Council member Mary M. Cheh said in a statement issued Saturday afternoon. “This implicit acknowledgement will, I believe, make it very difficult for him to continue to effectively serve the citizens of the District, and, therefore, I hope he will seriously consider stepping off the Council.”

That statement came shortly after a similar call from council member David A. Catania.

“By virtue of Friday’s settlement, Councilmember Thomas has declined to offer a full accounting of his actions,” Mr. Catania said in a statement. “The residents of the District of Columbia deserve better. With such serious allegations unanswered and an on-going investigation by the US Attorney, I believe that Councilmember Thomas should resign from the Council of the District of Columbia.”

D.C. Attorney General Irvin B. Nathan on Friday announced Mr. Thomas, a Democrat, had agreed to pay back $300,000 in grant money that he is accused of using for personal golfing trips, hotel stays and a new sport utility vehicle. The settlement came after the attorney general last month filed a $1 million lawsuit against Mr. Thomas.

Mr. Thomas still faces an active criminal investigation by the U.S. Attorney for the District and any political ramifications when the council reconvenes from its summer recess in September.

In a statement Friday, Mr. Thomas said a settlement was in the “the best interest of the city” and he denied any “purposeful misuse” of public funds.

“I have committed my life to teaching life skills to children through sports and athletic competition,” he said. “The discipline and strenuous rigors that I teach through coaching and mentoring were lacking in the management of the organization.”

Mr. Thomas has already stepped down from his post as chairman of the powerful Committee on Government Operations under pressure from his colleagues. Under the terms of the settlement, he is precluded from directing or soliciting charitable donations in the District — except for his constituent services fund.

Mrs. Cheh, Ward 3 Democrat, also said that the terms of the legal settlement, which require Mr. Thomas to pay back $300,000 by the end of 2013, “may raise additional concerns if any efforts at fundraising will be involved.”

Mr. Thomas is serving his second term representing Ward 5. His late father, Harry Thomas Sr., represented the ward for three terms.

The council member had been under scrutiny largely over Team Thomas, a nonprofit he co-founded in 2000. The organization purportedly ran children’s sports programs until it was dissolved last December.

The attorney general’s office said more than $300,000 in grant funds went to Langston 21st Century Foundation, a purported youth sports and education nonprofit, which is suspected of secretly giving most of the funds to Mr. Thomas through his nonprofit and for-profit organizations. Official documents identify the foundation principles as James Garvin and Marshall Banks.

Mr. Nathan’s office previously settled with principals of the Langston foundation for $86,000.

The attorney general also alleged Mr. Thomas solicited more than $80,000 from private donors on behalf of Team Thomas, which was never registered in the city to do so, and used a Team Thomas debit card to spend more than $20,000 on personal travel and entertainment use — including $1,185 and $1,073 for respective golf trips to Las Vegas and Pebble Beach, Calif.

The complaint said Mr. Thomas wrote thousands of dollars in checks from the nonprofit’s bank account to himself, his for-profit company, HLT Development, or to “cash” and using $58,000 in funds to buy an Audi Quattro sport utility vehicle, which is registered in his name.

• Matthew Cella can be reached at mcella@washingtontimes.com.

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