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Posted at 04:20 PM ET, 10/22/2010

D.C. Attorney General launches probe of council member Harry Thomas

The D.C. Attorney General's Office is requesting that council member Harry Thomas Jr. (D-Ward 5) voluntarily turn over documents and other information about a non-profit organization he operates that is not registered with the Internal Revenue Service or in good standing with city regulators.

Attorney General Peter J. Nickles and Bennett Rushkoff, chief of the attorney general's Public Advocacy Section, sent Thomas a letter Thursday requesting information on "Team Thomas" by Tuesday or risk a subpoena. The letter appears to be the start of a formal investigation into Thomas.

Last week, the Washington Post reported that Thomas has been soliciting money for Team Thomas, which he bills as a "non-profit organization for social change, citizen empowerment, community development and youth and senior development program." But the organization is not registered with the IRS as a tax-exempt non-profit. Although Team Thomas had been registered locally with the Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs, the registration was revoked last September.

Tim Day, Thomas's GOP opponent in the Nov. 2 general election, has accused Thomas of using the organization as a "slush fund." Thomas, who frequently holds fundraising events for the group, has been unable to provide a list of his donors or expenses.

Rushkoff is requesting that Thomas turn over the names of the organization's executives and accounts. The attorney general's office also wants Thomas to over information about Team Thomas's donors, employees and their salaries, and its beneficiaries.

"The purpose of this letter is to request that information and documents needed for an investigation of certain charitable organizations be produced voluntarily as to avoid the need for a subpoena," the letter states, a copy of which was obtained by The Washington Post.

Thomas, who has been a frequent critic of Nickles, said in a statement Friday that he was concerned about the short period in which to respond to the request but that he intends to comply. "It is, and shall remain, my prime objective to be as open and transparent as possible in all my public programs and activities," he wrote.

In an interview last week, Thomas defended his organization, saying he never suggested it was registered as a tax-exempt nonprofit, which would entitle donors to a tax deduction.

Thomas and his attorney, John Ray, also argued that DCRA should not have revoked his registration because, they say, it is still in good standing.

But the prospect of an investigation could affect Thomas's future political plans. Although he is expected to easily beat Day in the general election, Thomas appears to be gearing up for a possible run for citywide office.

In recent weeks, Thomas has attended nearly all of D.C. Council Chairman Vincent C. Gray's town hall meetings, which has been widely viewed as a sign he is considering running for the at-large seat. A special election will be held this spring for the at-large seat that will become vacant after Council member Kwame Brown (D) steps down to become the chairman of the council.

Questions about Thomas's non-profit could also turn into a minor headache for Gray, who has close political ties to Thomas.

On Wednesday, the Washington Post editorial board called on Gray, the Democratic nominee for mayor, and the council to launch an investigation into Thomas. A grassroots organization trying to get voters to write in Mayor Adrian M. Fenty (D) in the general election are also using the questions about Thomas's organization to drum up support for their effort.

But the attorney general's office inquiry could also raise political questions. Thomas has been a frequent critic of Attorney General Nickles.

-- Tim Craig

By  |  04:20 PM ET, 10/22/2010

Categories:  2010 District Election

 
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