D.C. Councilman Harry Thomas Jr. Resigns

Ex-Councilman plans to plead guilty Friday

D.C. Council member Harry Thomas Jr. has resigned after being charged with stealing more than $350,000 in government funds and filing false tax returns.

In a statement released Thursday night, Thomas said he plans to plead guilty Friday morning.

"Today I am taking the first step toward making things right," the statement read.

The two felony counts against Thomas are detailed in a criminal information document filed in U.S. District Court on Thursday.

From the court filing on the first count:

"From at least as early as in or about April 2007 and continuing until at least in or about February 2009, in the District of Columbia, defendant Harry Thomas Jr. embezzled, stole, obtained by fraud, without authority knowingly converted appropriately to the use of a person not the rightful owner, and intentionally misapplied property worth at least $5,000 and owned by, under the care of, under the custody of, and under the control of the District of Columbia, that is, $353,500 in District of Columbia funds."

In the second count, Thomas is charged with failing to declare the misappropriated funds as income to the IRS.

A hearing for Thomas in U.S. District Court was scheduled for 11:15 a.m. Friday.

"I made some very serious mistakes and exhibited inadequate and flawed judgment," Thomas's statement read. "I take full responsibility for my actions."

Under District law, officeholders convicted of a felony can continue serving until they go to prison. After news of the charges broke, Mayor Vincent Gray and Council Chairman Kwame Brown called for Thomas to step down.

“Given today’s filing by the United States Attorney for the District of Columbia, I urge Councilmember Thomas to resign and focus his time and efforts on defending himself in court," Gray said. "While everyone is presumed innocent until proven otherwise, those who violate the public’s trust must be held accountable for their actions.”

"He must very carefully consider doing what is in the best interests of his family, his constituents, and the District," Brown said. "I have not received Councilmember Thomas’ resignation, but I expect it.  As I pledged on Tuesday, the residents of Ward 5 will continue to have their concerns represented by the Council of the District of Columbia."

Council members Muriel Bowser, Ward 4, and Mary Cheh, Ward 3, also released statements calling for Thomas to resign.

"The Council must return its focus to the business of governing our city: Creating jobs, accelerating education reform and delivering high quality services to our residents,” Bowser said.

Cheh noted that she called for Thomas to step down last summer, calling the investigation a distraction from the council's work.

“Fundamentally, I don’t think Tommy is a bad person, and as his colleague and friend, I desperately wish the circumstances were different," she said in her statement. "But we live under the rule of law and all of us have to face the consequences of our actions. Tommy Thomas is no exception."

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.''

In June, D.C. Attorney General Irvin Nathan released a report accusing Thomas of spending government funds on himself.  Nathan's report says Thomas bought a  $68,00 luxury SUV with some of the money and took expensive trips, including at least one to play golf at the luxury Pebble Beach. The money was intended for youth sports programs.

The District attorney general filed a civil suit against Thomas, but it was settled when Thomas agreed to repay the funds.
In the fall of 2011, the U.S. Attorney's office launched an investigation to determine whether Thomas had committed any criminal violations.

On December 2, federal authorities raided Thomas's house, where they seized a  luxury vehicle, an expensive racing motorcycle and boxes of personal papers and records.

Thomas is the son of the late Harry Thomas Sr., who served three terms as a council member from Ward 5. He has a marketing degree from Bowie State University and was first elected to the council in 2006. He was reelected in 2010 despite criticism that he was involved with several sports nonprofits, News4's Tom Sherwood reported.

"To my family, I deeply regret the pain that this has caused each of you," Thomas's statement read. "I know that your decades of commitment to Ward 5 and the Washington, D.C., community, which has always filled me with pride, will continue. It is through the efforts of individuals like my mother, a public school principal, and my father, who served as representative of Ward 5 with great distinction, that our community becomes great. It is this legacy of service that I hope to live up to again."

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 Associated Press reported.

Tim Day, the former Republican candidate for Thomas's 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.

Thomas's resignation is expected to trigger a special election to choose his replacement within about four months, at a cost of hundreds of thousands of dollars to District taxpayers. It could come as soon as April 3, Sherwood reported.

Despite the allegations, Thomas still enjoys some support in his ward. Robert King, a neighborhood commissioner who chaired Thomas's 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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