Editors Note: The Capital News has stayed away from controversial issues surrounding local politicians. We have done so, with the motto of being focused on telling the Untold Stories, news the bigger publications won’t print. However, in the wake of the recent city council scandal, we find it journalistically responsible to inform our readership.
The first week of January brought new changes to the District’s city council. Ward 5 Council Member, Harry Thomas, Jr. (D), resigned from his post, after being charged with embezzling more than $350,000 in government funds and filing false tax returns.
Thomas is the first sitting council member to be charged with a felony and resign. Thomas plead guilty to stealing money that had been earmarked for youth sports programs, according to a lawsuit filed last June by the District’s attorney general.
Thomas has previously been accused of spending the stolen money on luxury vehicles, travel expenses and golf rounds.
After months of wrongdoing, he pleaded guilty to crimes that will likely cause him to do time in prison. According to federal sentencing guidelines, he faces between 37 to 46 months in prison. His sentencing will be May 3rd.
Within months of taking office in 2007, Thomas began taking kickbacks, supposedly used to help inner city youth. He was accused of not reporting income between 2007 and 2009, in what was discovered to be $25,000 in 2007, $278,00 in 2008 and $43,000 in 2009.
He pleaded guilty to two felonies: theft concerning programs receiving federal funds and filing a false tax return. As a part of his plea deal he agreed to resign from office and pay $353, 500 in restitution to D.C. government and work with the Internal Revenue Service to make payments on the money he alluded paying form his 2007-2009 income taxes.
Thomas is the son of longtime Ward 5 D.C. council member Harry Thomas, Sr., bringing controversy to a highly politically charged family, where his mother has been an activist in the ward as well. Thomas was elected in 2006 and re-elected in 2010.
In a letter read by Thomas at a press conference, he said, “I made some very serious mistakes and exhibited inadequate and flawed judgment. I take full responsibility for my actions. I am truly sorry.”
Ward 5 residents are the ones who are left with the sorry. They must wait a couple of months before a new council member is sworn in to represent their ward. Former Ward 5 council member and current At-Large council member Vincent Orange (D) has stepped in to ensure that resident’s requests and concerns are still addressed until a new member elected to represent the ward.
Thomas isn’t the only member of the D.C. council who is under investigation. Council Chair Kwame Brown (D) is under investigation because of alleged reports he misused campaign funds to pay members of his family. Ward 1 council member Jim Graham is under investigation by the F.B.I. for allegedly accepting bribes by the taxi industry. Mayor Vincent Gray (D) is also under investigation for campaign and hiring controversies, most prominent of which involves Gray aides paying Sulaimon Brown to attack then-mayor Adrian M. Fenty (D), on behalf of Gray.
A federal investigation into Gray’s 2010 campaign show that his transition campaign made eight separate payments totaling $34, 500 to Gray consultant, Howard Brooks, a key figure in the federal investigation.
All of the council controversies have put the District under federal spotlight and left city residents with little ethical faith in their local government.