Thomas' Behavior Described as 'Ethical Cancer'

Barrington M. Salmon | 5/9/2012, 10:39 a.m.

From his vantage point, District resident Lawrence E. Perry said he has no sympathy for disgraced former Councilmember Harry L. Thomas Jr., who was sentenced last week to three years and two months in prison for stealing at least $353,500 and filing a false tax return.

Perry, a Ward 7 resident who retired after working for years in the whisky industry, said Thomas - who represented Ward 5 on the D.C. Council from 2006 until his fall from grace - betrayed the public's sacred trust.

"If you do the crime, do the time," he said in an interview Tuesday night. "What gives him the right to think he has access to public funds? He knew how much he was going to make when he took the job. He wasn't honest to himself or his constituents."

Perry said he often spends time with Ward 5 residents and many of them are disappointed by Thomas' behavior and they have expressed concern about the extent to which his theft of public money has sullied the people he used to represent.

"It took a lot of conniving to do what he did," said Perry. "How can you trust him again? He knew what he was doing. He came from a good family and he betrayed them and those he was elected to serve."

Thomas resigned his seat in January, just hours after federal prosecutors filed charges of embezzlement and filing false tax returns against him. On Jan. 6, he pled guilty to felony counts of theft of government funds and falsifying tax returns.

One pervasive rumor swirling around in some circles, since Thomas' May 3 sentencing, is the idea that he took the fall for his wife Diane Romo Thomas. She served as a board member of TeamThomas, a nonprofit organization that her husband used to funnel the stolen money.

There's nothing that has come to light so far that puts any credence on the rumor, but that hasn't stopped tongues from wagging. Be that as it may, Perry said Thomas' time behind bars will serve as a warning to all who sit on the D.C. Council that they can't just arbitrarily steal from public coffers.

Ward 5 Republican candidate Tim Day disagrees.

"His sentencing isn't the end of the story," said Day of Thomas. "It's more about what has to be done to tighten measures to make sure this doesn't happen again. [Councilmember Jim] Graham just issued subpoenas related to the case but it's late. That should have been done when Thomas was charged."

"I hope something comes out of this. We have bad people who [are] allowed to do what they want. A lot of people want to just close the book. I agree with them and reassure them that their dollars need to be protected."

Day fears that if checks and balances aren't put in place and grants and other public money is not rigorously monitored, those elected officials inclined to pilfer will have few safeguards against their thievery.

Day, 40, and the DC Republican Party, were the first to report irregularities surrounding TeamThomas, the nonprofit organization run by Thomas. Later, the Office of the Attorney General started its own investigation.