In the end, neither side got what it wanted.
Defense attorneys for former Ward 5 D.C. Councilmember Harry L. Thomas Jr. sought an 18-month sentence, while prosecutors wanted a federal judge to slap Thomas with 46 months.
But on Thursday, May 3, U.S. District Court Judge John D. Bates opted to sentence Thomas to three years and two months in prison. The sentence ends a sordid saga for the scion of a powerful political family who admitted to stealing $353,500.
"There is no excuse for my poor decisions. I was an elected official who used grant funds for my own use," a soft-spoken Thomas told the judge prior to sentencing. "What I did was wrong. I broke the law and accept the punishment. This has humiliated my family, my mother, the public, responsible public servants and community leaders.
"I harmed those who I served with, harmed the D.C. that I love, harmed the young people who looked up to me. I apologize for my actions and ask them for their forgiveness ... this is my weakest moment and the worst moment of my life ... I have humiliated my wife and children, my mother – they've endured what no family should have to endure."
A remorseful Thomas, 51, said he'd lost his moral compass and acted with a sense of entitlement.
Said Thomas, "I put my needs above those of the people I served, above my family. I betrayed them ... my actions have cost me a lifetime of work. The only thing I can do is accept responsibility and restore my integrity and honesty ... for the rest of my life I will try to make this right."
More than 100 family, friends and supporters packed the 4th floor courtroom at the U.S. District Court in Northwest. Throughout the proceedings, some family members and friends cried while others' red-rimmed eyes illustrated their sorrow. Robert Vinson Brannon, a Thomas friend, cried uncontrollably and was comforted by a female friend who patted his back as he leaned over sobbing.
Among those who testified on Thomas' behalf was his 82-year-old mother Romaine B. Thomas, his nephew Stephen Kyle Truhart and Little League administrator and organizer Paris Inman.
"My heart is heavy and full of anguish," said Romaine Thomas, a former educator who pleaded for mercy for her son. "I understand, respect and accept that he pleaded guilty. This is the cold reality of why we're here. He grew up in a Christian home with humble beginnings. We struggled to provide a comfortable home, and through the grace of God [taught our children to be of] worthy character, to maintain good values and a solid education."
While her son sat with his head bowed, Romaine Thomas spoke of her son's commitment to public service, his involvement and contributions to children and others and his service as a mentor, advisory neighborhood commissioner, baseball commissioner, and sponsor of baseball programs and camps. Thomas lamented the turn her son's life has taken.
"I have talked as mother to son on the mismanagement of his affairs," she said. "We discussed the harm and shame he brought to his wife, his children and the family. He admitted his betrayal of the public trust. My son has suffered severely in these past few months through disappointment in himself, demoralization, despair and dejection."
On Jan. 6, Thomas pled guilty to one count of theft from programs that receive federal funds and one count of filing a false tax return. In a plea agreement, he agreed to resign from the D.C. Council, becoming the first sitting member to be charged with, and convicted of a felony.
"There are many positive things to say about Harry Thomas but there are troubling things too," Bates said. "The theft here was long-term – two years from April 2007 to February 2009 and it involved many, many occasions. It was not one time and involved several programs."
Assistant U.S. Attorney Jonathan W. Haray hammered Thomas' criminal behavior, calling him a hypocrite for speaking publicly of his devotion to the District's children while stealing money intended for needy children. He said Thomas pocketed the money and used it to pay for a $23,245 Victory motorcycle, expensive trips, meals, fancy clothes, shoes and a $69,000 luxury sport-utility vehicle.
Haray asked Bates to send a message by imposing a 46-month sentence.
"This is a historic case on a very sad day," he said. "This is the most egregious act of corruption ever in District history ... this case stands out because of the brazen abuse of his office. It stands out because of his hypocrisy of touting his devotion to kids while stealing money earmarked for those kids.
"Today, the court has a rare opportunity to send a loud and clear message that if you steal from people, you're sworn to serve, you will pay a high price. This will be a deterrent because public officials need to know they'll be punished for engaging in crime. This will restore confidence to residents that elected officials caught stealing public funds [will be] punished."
The investigation into Thomas' activities represents one of several presently being conducted by federal officials into the dealings of other Council officials, Mayor Vincent C. Gray (D) and D.C. Council Chairman Kwame R. Brown (D).
Ward 6 Councilmember Tommy Wells said the allegations against some of his colleagues and the investigations have created a crisis of confidence in the public's mind.
"It's really depressing because it has an impact on him [Thomas], his family and everyone who lives in Ward 5," said Wells. "He was such a promising young man. This is just the closing of one chapter of a book still being written in D.C. government. I have other colleagues [who] are under a cloud ... the mayor is under a cloud, the Council chair is under a cloud, and there are other council members – black and white – whose actions have been called into question. It is a crisis of confidence."
Unfortunately, Wells added, Council members have not met the challenge of turning around the perception of impropriety.
Bates ruled that Thomas will be on probation for three years after leaving prison and must pay $200 a month to pay off restitution to the District. The total amount of restitution is yet to be determined. Thomas' attorneys argued strenuously that he should only be liable for the $353,500 that he took, but Bates was unconvinced, saying Thomas might also be responsible for as much as $90,000 more. This money came from city funds Thomas took from youth and anti-drug intervention programs to pay for a 2009 inaugural ball he helped organize. Bates ruled that Thomas would not pay a fine and would only be responsible for restitution.
Advisory Neighborhood Commissioner Timothy Thomas appeared stunned as he walked out of the courtroom. "Wow, so much for the 18 months. We were hoping for that," he said. "It's a sad day for the citizens of D.C. This serves notice to every Council member that this will not be tolerated. And for those running in Ward 5, if you really want to serve, you have to have honesty and integrity."
"He's the first one up. Those on the Council should have been here to see this. This is not a laughing matter. It's serious business."