Former Council Aide Pleads Guilty to Diverting Money Meant for Youth

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    NEWSLETTERS

    The former chief of staff to District Councilman Harry Thomas Jr. pleaded guilty to a criminal tax charge.

    The former chief of staff to District Councilman Harry L. Thomas pleaded guilty Friday to her role in channeling $110,000 in money meant to help young people to pay for a ball for the 2009 presidential inauguration.

    Ayawna Webster pleaded guilty to attempting to interfere with federal tax laws, a crime that could carry a sentence of up to three years in prison and a $250,000 fine. However, both parties in this case have agreed to a maximum of six months in prison and a $10,000 fine.

    Webster is the sixth person to plead guilty in the ongoing investigation into Thomas' activities. Thomas has pleaded guilty to using $350,000 in taxpayer money meant for youth programs for his own benefit; he is serving a 38-month prison sentence.

    Webster was president of the D.C. Young Democrats when Thomas asked her if the organization would host an inaugural ball. He'd been prohibited from doing so, according to the U.S. Attorney's Office.

    Webster booked the entertainment, hired caterers and planned the black-tie event, with tickets going for $51 each. It quickly became clear that ticket sales would not cover the cost of the event, and Thomas -- who was "closely involved" in the planning, according to federal prosecutors -- promised he'd find the money to pay for it.

    Thomas told Webster to approach another staff member to help. That staff member applied for a grant from a non-profit, public-private partnership meant to fund programs that help young people in the District. The grant said the money would go toward a "youth/young adult inauguration celebration." 

    As part of the grant application, Webster backdated a tax form and listed a false name for the organization on it.

    The money actually paid for the "51st State Inaugural Ball" -- and some of it was used for other expenses, including Webster's travel expenses for D.C. Young Democrats, prosecutors said.

    The spending was at Thomas' direction, prosecutors said.

    Webster also admitted to failing to report her organization's political activity, and prosecutors say she never filed tax returns for the group.

    "Today Ayawna Webster became the sixth person to plead guilty as part of the investigation of her former boss," said U.S. Attorney Ronald C. Machen. "Her guilty plea is another reminder of the foolishness of going along with criminal schemes to placate corrupt public officials. The investigation is continuing."