D.C. Council member Harry Thomas Jr. was charged with embezzling more than $300,000 in city funds and filing a false tax return, according to court papers filed Thursday in the District’s federal court.
The charges came in a “criminal information,” a type of charging document that can only be filed with the defendant’s consent and generally signals that a plea deal has been reached.
A plea hearing in Thomas’ case has been set for 11:15 a.m. Friday before U.S. District Judge John D. Bates, according to a court docket entry.
Federal prosecutors and Thomas’ attorney have spent the last few days negotiating an agreement in the case. Thomas’s resignation has been a key part of those talks.
In a statement today, Mayor Vincent C. Gray (D) urged Thomas to resign, while Council Chairman Kwame R. Brown (D) told colleagues early this afternoon that he was expecting Thomas to step down.
“. . .I urge council member 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.”
In an interview Thursday afternoon, Brown said he has not spoken to Thomas since before Christmas but fully expects him to leave the panel.
“I’m very clear, I expect his resignation and I expect it soon,” Brown said. Brown added he’s given no consideration to the possibility that Thomas will try to remain in office until the conclusion of the judicial process. “I just think it’s time to move forward,” said Brown, who did not have any immediate plans to reach out to Thomas.
Earlier in the day, Brown had a meeting with Gray and the two briefly spoke about Thomas. “The mayor feels like I feel, just disappointed,” Brown said.
When asked if the charges against Thomas will help the body move beyond a year of scandal and controversy, Brown said, “We are just going to continue to move forward.”
Thomas is alleged to have steered more than $300,000 in city funds for youth sports programs to pay for personal expenses that included an Audi sport-utility vehicle. Agents from the FBI and IRS raided Thomas’s home. last month and seized several personal items. The city’s attorney general outlined the allegations in a civil suit last year and referred the case to U.S. Attorney Ronald C. Machen Jr.
The four-page charging document alleges that Thomas embezzled $353,500 between April 2007 and February 2009. He is also accused of filing a false tax returns in 2007, 2008 and 2009. The charging papers allege that he under-reported his income in those years by a total of $346,000. Thomas will have to forfeit a 2008 motorcycle and a 2008 Chevrolet Tahoe to the U.S. government, according to the charging papers.
Thomas could appear in court as early as Friday for a plea, according to sources familiar with his case.
Last week, Thomas began meeting with friends to apologize for the allegations hanging over his head. He told them that he expected to enter a guilty plea this week and to get a three-year prison sentence, according to friends of his.
Thomas faces a maximum sentence of 10 years in prison and a fine of $250,000 on the theft charge and could face up to 3-years in prison and a $250,000 fine for filing a false tax return. However, under federal guidelines, Thomas is likely to face a much more lenient sentence. Sources familiar with plea negotiations between Thomas and federal prosecutors said that guidelines suggest a prison sentence in the three- or four- year range. But Thomas will be able to argue for less prison time or even probation at sentencing, the sources said.
Thomas, his attorney, Frederick D. Cooke Jr., and prosecutors have declined to comment on the status of the case, although Cooke confirmed on Wednesday that the two sides were talking.
There is no city law barring someone from running for office even after a felony conviction.
On Tuesday, Thomas missed a deadline for a $50,000 payment to the city as part of a settlement agreement with the attorney general’s office. Attorney General Irvin B. Nathan alleged in a civil lawsuit that Thomas had steered the funds through groups he controlled to a variety of personal expenditures, including golf trips and a luxury SUV. He did not admit wrongdoing, but the settlement agreement required Thomas (D-Ward 5) to deliver a $50,000 cashier’s check to Nathan’s office “on or before” Dec. 31. Because that day fell on a long holiday weekend, the deadline was extended until the close of business Tuesday.
Under the agreement, Thomas is required to make twice-yearly payments of $50,000 through 2013 and cannot start or operate a charity through 2016.
This post has been updated.
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