- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 24, 2011

D.C. Council Member Harry Thomas, Jr. has been ordered to appear in federal court next month over accusations he failed to pay back his student loans — the latest embarrassing public disclosure involving a city lawmaker’s private financial woes.

U.S. Magistrate Deborah Robinson this week granted a motion to reopen a long-running federal complaint that Mr. Thomas, Ward 5 Democrat, hasn’t made good on more than $16,000 in student loans, interest and penalties, according to recent records filed in U.S. District Court in Washington.

The judge’s order comes more than a year after a lawyer for the federal government filed papers to reinstate the civil case. Judge Robinson had tossed the case in June 2009 on the grounds that Mr. Thomas had not been properly served and that there wasn’t any activity in the case for several months.

But this week, Judge Robinson reopened the case against Mr. Thomas and ordered both sides to appear for a status conference in May. The 2006 civil complaint against Mr. Thomas says despite demands, he “neglected and refused to pay” his loans.

“This is a simple collection case on a defaulted student loan to which the defendant has no legitimate defense,” argued Thomas Mauro, an attorney for the government in a subsequent 2009 court filing in the case.

There is no attorney listed as representing Mr. Thomas in the court docket for the case.

A spokeswoman at Mr. Thomas’ council office Thursday referred questions to a lawyer named Vandy Jamison who could not be reached Thursday.

In a 2006 filing, a previous lawyer for Mr. Thomas denied that the council member “neglected and refused” to pay the loans. But that lawyer, Mr. Mauro later pointed out court records, wasn’t admitted to practice law in the District.

Mr. Thomas did not return phone messages that Mr. Mauro left at the council member’s office in 2008, Mr. Mauro said in court papers.

What’s more, Mr. Thomas did not attend a March 2008 conference hearing, records show. Later, a lawyer purporting to represent Mr. Thomas requested that Mr. Mauro make a settlement offer, records show.

But in a court filing, Mr. Mauro said he did not get the name of that lawyer and no offers or correspondence followed that conversation from Mr. Thomas or any lawyers representing him.

“The defendant’s silence and conduct concede he has no defense to repayment of this student loan,” Mr. Mauro argued in 2009 court filing.

Questions about an outstanding student loan isn’t Mr. Thomas’ only concern these days. He’s also facing a probe by the D.C. Office of Campaign Finance over accusations of financial misconduct involving his charity, Team Thomas.

But Mr. Thomas is not alone among D.C. lawmakers facing questions about their personal finances.

D.C. Council member Marion Barry, Ward 8 Democrat, stood before Judge Robinson when he pleaded guilty in 2005 to a misdemeanor charge that he failed to file a tax return. She refused a request by prosecutors to send Mr. Barry to jail.

In addition, The Washington Times reported in July that D.C. Council member Michael A. Brown, at-large Independent, was facing a federal lien for more than $50,000 in unpaid income taxes. At the time, he said he was close to paying off the tax debts.

And during his campaign last year, Council Chairman Kwame R. Brown, a Democrat, acknowledged tens of thousands of dollars in credit card debts.

• Jim McElhatton can be reached at jmcelhatton@washingtontimes.com.

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