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Harry Thomas Sentenced to 38 months

Barrington M. Salmon | , WI Staff Writer | 5/4/2012, 8:53 a.m.

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."