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DC councilman to plead guilty to gov't fund theftDC Councilman Thomas Jr. to plead guilty to stealing gov't funds meant for kids
WASHINGTON (AP) ' D.C. Councilmember Harry Thomas Jr. will plead guilty Friday to stealing more than $350,000 in government funds and filing false tax returns, bringing an end to one of the many scandals that have plagued District of Columbia government in the past year.
Thomas, a 51-year-old Democrat, was charged Thursday in a criminal information following plea discussion between his attorneys and federal prosecutors. A plea hearing has been scheduled for Friday morning, court records show.
Although a guilty plea would not require Thomas to resign, he appeared to be preparing to do so. Mayor Vincent Gray and several of his colleagues have called on him to step down.
"I urge Councilmember Thomas to resign and focus his time and efforts on defending himself in court," Gray said in a statement. "While everyone is presumed innocent until proven otherwise, those who violate the public's trust must be held accountable for their actions. I'm hopeful that this matter will be concluded quickly."
Within the past two weeks, Thomas has encouraged his remaining staff to search for new jobs, according to multiple council employees with knowledge of his actions who spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to disclose that information.
The money Thomas will admit to stealing had been earmarked for youth sports programs, according to a lawsuit filed last June by the district's attorney general. The criminal information does not detail what Thomas did with the alleged stolen funds.
Thomas was previously accused of spending the stolen money on a luxury SUV, travel and rounds of golf. He agreed to pay back $300,000 in a civil settlement with the attorney general, although he missed a scheduled $50,000 payment that was due Tuesday.
The tax return charge accuses Thomas of failing to report $356,000 in income between 2007 and 2009.
Thomas was also ordered to forfeit an SUV and a motorcycle that were seized last month by federal agents who raided his home.
Thomas' attorneys, Seth Rosenthal and Frederick Cooke, did not return calls seeking comment, and he did not return a message left at his home. The U.S. Attorney's Office declined to comment. A staffer who answered the phone at Thomas' council office said he was not there and no one who was could comment on the charges.
Other district officials are facing federal scrutiny. Gray's campaign staffers have been accused of giving cash and promising a government job to a minor mayoral candidate in exchange for that person's withering criticism of then-Mayor Adrian Fenty in 2010.
Council Chairman Kwame Brown is being investigated in relation to his steering more than $200,000 in campaign funds to a firm controlled by his brother in 2008.
Brown said he was disappointed by the charges.
"I have not received Councilmember Thomas' resignation, but I expect it," Brown said.
Councilmember Mary Cheh, who called on Thomas to resign last summer, told The Associated Press that she was shocked by the brazenness of his actions.
"This is a direct diversion of funds. To use the word that makes it obvious to the public, this is stealing public money," Cheh said. "I don't think what we're talking about with the other investigations is really that stark a breach of the public trust."
Three other councilmembers have asked Thomas to step down. Under district law, officeholders convicted of a felony can continue serving until they go to prison.
Thomas' late father was a longtime D.C. councilmember. The younger Thomas was elected in 2006 to represent Ward 5, a majority-black, mixed-income section of the district that includes parts of its northeast and northwest quadrants. He was re-elected in 2010.
According to the district attorney general's lawsuit, Thomas steered the money into a nonprofit that provides golf programs for youth. That group then paid most of the grant money to an organization under Thomas' control, known as Team Thomas, the lawsuit said.
Team Thomas was supposed to use the funds for youth sports programs. But instead, Thomas spent the money on himself, buying a luxury SUV and traveling to exclusive golf courses including Pebble Beach Golf Links in California, the lawsuit said.
Tim Day, the former Republican candidate for Thomas' seat who first alerted district authorities to irregularities with Team Thomas, said resignation would help "cure our city of this ethical cancer."
"I hope this brings some closure so Ward 5 can have the positive attention and representation it deserves," Day said in a statement.
If Thomas resigns, a special election would be held to choose his replacement within about four months, at a cost of hundreds of thousands of dollars to district taxpayers.
Despite the allegations, Thomas still enjoys some support in his ward. Robert King, a neighborhood commissioner who chaired Thomas' 2006 campaign, said he was struggling to come to grips with the idea that his friend might have stolen money.
"I'm having a hard time trying to believe that he would take any money from the children," King said Wednesday as reports were surfacing about an imminent plea deal. "He's been more involved in athletics and baseball than he's been involved in politics. That is his first love."
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