- The Washington Times - Thursday, January 5, 2012

Embattled D.C. Council member Harry Thomas Jr. on Thursday evening resigned from office and said he will plead guilty on Friday to two federal charges of stealing more than $350,000 in taxpayer funds and failing to report income on his tax returns.

“I made some very serious mistakes and exhibited inadequate and flawed judgment,” Mr. Thomas said in a statement released by his attorneys. “I take full responsibility for my actions. I am truly sorry.”

Mr. Thomas said he had made “some very poor decisions” and apologized to his family, his constituents and his colleagues.

“I was wrong,” he said.

The resignation will become official when it is transmitted to the council secretary on Friday. Earlier Thursday evening, Mr. Thomas told The Washington Times of his plans.

“I am resigning in the morning,” he said, adding that he was in an ongoing meeting with his attorneys.

D.C. Council Chairman Kwame R. Brown noted that Mr. Thomas “took full responsibility for his actions” and has apologized to the residents of the District and of Ward 5, which Mr. Thomas represented. The chairman will hold a news conference on Friday to explain how the council plans to proceed without Mr. Thomas.

“It’s time to start the healing process and allow his family the privacy and opportunity to move forward,” Mr. Brown said.

Mr. Thomas’ resignation came after federal prosecutors on Thursday filed documents in U.S. District Court for the District accusing Mr. Thomas, a Democrat, 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.

Mr. Thomas, 51, is scheduled to appear before District Judge John D. Bates at the federal courthouse on Friday morning.

The criminal charges prompted a wave of reaction on Thursday from top city officials who had withheld judgment on the matter. For the first time, Mayor Vincent C. Gray called on Mr. Thomas to resign and focus on defending himself in court.

“While everyone is assumed innocent till proven otherwise, those who violate the public’s trust must be held accountable for their actions,” he said.

Mr. Gray’s spokesman, Pedro Ribeiro, said the mayor did not speak to Mr. Thomas before issuing his statement.

Mr. Brown also called on Mr. Thomas to resign earlier in the day and said he was speaking to council members about the situation and how to make sure Ward 5 was adequately represented.

The guilty plea will close a chapter that has hung over City Hall for more than a year, starting with accusations about Mr. Thomas’ nonprofit organization, Team Thomas, that were lobbed at him by Republican opponent Tim Day before his re-election in 2010.

“I hope this brings some closure so Ward 5 can have the positive attention and representation it deserves,” Mr. Day said Thursday of the charges.

Mr. Thomas agreed in the summer to pay $300,000 to the District after D.C. Attorney General Irvin B. Nathan filed a lawsuit against him in June, claiming he used his position to take the funds earmarked for youth sports to purchase a luxury vehicle and pay for trips or other personal expenses.

Mr. Thomas did not admit guilt in the civil settlement, yet the criminal probe against him appeared to escalate with a federal raid on his Northeast home on Dec. 2, in which agents seized a 2008 Chevy Tahoe and a 2008 Victory motorcycle.

Court papers filed Thursday say Mr. Thomas must forfeit both vehicles to the U.S. government. Prosecutors also accuse him of failing to report an aggregate $346,000 in additional income — $25,000 in 2007, $278,000 in 2008 and $43,000 in 2009 — than what was documented in his returns.

“It’s a sad day for the District,” said council member Tommy Wells, Ward 6 Democrat, who called on Mr. Thomas to resign in July. “But it does show we have a procedure for holding people accountable, especially our elected officials.”

Council members Mary M. Cheh, Ward 3 Democrat, and David A. Catania, at-large independent, also asked Mr. Thomas to resign last summer.

On Thursday, council member Muriel Bowser, Ward 4 Democrat, who crafted a recently passed ethics-reform bill, joined the chorus of colleagues who said Mr. Thomas must step aside.

The ethics legislation, passed by the council last month, will disqualify an elected official from office if he or she is convicted of a felony — even without jail or prison time — yet the change to the city’s charter must be approved by an act of Congress or by D.C. voters, which could take months.

Mr. Thomas had resisted calls from his colleagues to resign, but his personal staff was advised some time ago to look for new jobs, multiple sources at the John A. Wilson Building said.

Whispers of a plea deal between Mr. Thomas and prosecutors escalated during the week, buttressed by Mr. Thomas’ absence at the first legislative session of the year on Wednesday morning.

Mr. Thomas was elected to his second term last year with 62 percent of the vote in the Democratic primary and 84 percent in November’s general election. His father, the now-deceased Harry Thomas Sr., represented Ward 5 for three terms.

A special election will take place later in the year. Under D.C. law, ward voters would go to the polls on the first Tuesday after more than 114 days from when the Board of Elections and Ethics declares a vacancy.

Mr. Brown said the council will make sure the needs of Ward 5 are met. Other council members echoed that call.

“My office is available to the residents of Ward 5,” Mr. Wells said Thursday. “Every council member, not just the at-large members, will reach out … to make sure their issues are represented.”

Mr. Thomas’ legal troubles weighed significantly on the council in 2011, a year with criticism of Mr. Gray’s hiring practices and a federal investigation into whether his associates paid a minor mayoral candidate to bash then-Mayor Adrian M. Fenty on the campaign trail.

The U.S. attorney’s office is also investigating whether the 2008 re-election committee for Mr. Brown engaged in financial irregularities that amount to criminal activity.

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