Harry Thomas Jr. Pleads Guilty | WAMU 88.5 - American University Radio

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Harry Thomas Jr. Pleads Guilty

D.C. Council member faces 37-46 months in jail for embezzling

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Former D.C. Council member Harry Thomas Jr., right, speaks outside of the court room Friday to family and supporters.
Patrick Madden
Former D.C. Council member Harry Thomas Jr., right, speaks outside of the court room Friday to family and supporters.

Update: 5:00 p.m.: On Friday, Ron Machen, the U.S. Attorney for D.C., called the Thomas Jr. case a "flagrant abuse of the public trust." 

He detailed the investigation following the former D.C. council member's plea in court. Machen said it was a simple scheme, that Thomas orchestrated almost immediately after being elected to office.

Prosecutors say Thomas, using his power as an elected official, steered grant funds earmarked for youth sports and substance abuse programs to his preferred non-profit organizations. They then kicked it back to Thomas in very short order. He then spent the money on things like a trip to Pebble Beach and a $60,000 SUV.

A representative for the Department of Justice put it bluntly: he said Thomas used taxpayers as his personal piggybank.

Update 12:20 p.m.  Harry Thomas Jr., the newly-resigned D.C. Council member who was facing federal charges, has pleaded guilty to embezzling more than $350,000 in city funds and filing a false tax return. He faces 37-46 months in prison, according to his plea deal.

Following the plea, Thomas appeared outside the courthouse with family and supporters and briefly read the statement he had sent out Thursday night.

He will be sentenced May 3.

Original story: D.C. Council member Harry Thomas Jr. has resigned from office and will enter a guilty plea in court today on charges of filing false tax returns and stealing hundreds of thousands of dollars from the city, he said late Thursday.

Thomas is accused of stealing more than $350,000 of city funds that were earmarked for youth sports program. Instead, according to a civil lawsuit filed by the city last year, the money went into the councilman's pocket,  paying for trips to golf courses such as Pebble Beach, outings to Hooters, and a luxury SUV. 

Thomas is expected to face more than a year in prison for the two felony counts. In a statement released last night, Thomas says he is "truly sorry." adding that he "made some very serious mistakes and exhibited inadequate and flawed judgement.

"Today, I am taking the first step toward making things right," he said. Thomas is due in court for a hearing this morning. 

Mayor Vincent Gray urged Thomas to resign yesterday after the criminal information document was detailed in court. "While everyone is presumed innocent until proven otherwise, those who violate the public's trust must be accountable for their actions," Gray said in a statement Thursday.

Council Chairman Kwame Brown also weighed in on the charges. "You know, very disappointed about what's taken place today," said Brown. In a statement issued after Thomas's resignation, Brown said "now is the time for the healing process to begin."

Earlier in the day, Council member Phil Mendelson said he was grateful the investigation was wrapping up. "The council has struggled having to operate under this cloud and now it appears this cloud of suspicion has been resolved," Mendelson said.

Other federal investigations are still looming though: one into Gray's 2010 mayoral campaign; the other into Brown's 2008 campaign committee.

The investigation into Thomas was prompted by the council member's 2010 Republican opponent Tim Day, who alerted D.C.'s attorney general to a non-profit Thomas controlled. Attorney General Irv Nathan in 2011 filed a civil lawsuit accusing Thomas of diverting public funds. The council member later agreed to settle and pay back $300,000. 

Now it looks like Thomas is on his way out, and filling his seat during a special election later this spring will cost taxpayers at least $300,000.

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