The allegations were laid out in lengthy court papers that revealed Thomas wasted no time in seeking to steal city funds for expensive cars, trips, clothes and meals. Within months of taking office in 2007, he had pocketed $25,000 in his first kickbacks.
During the next three years, federal prosecutors said, Thomas used taxpayer money as a “personal piggy bank,” embezzling $353,500 from April 2007 through August 2009 to purchase items ranging from a luxury Audi Q7 SUV to a flashy Victory motorcycle.
His conduct “can only be described as a flagrant abuse of the public trust,” said Ronald C. Machen Jr., the District’s top federal prosecutor. “Time and time again, Mr. Thomas used for his personal gain taxpayer funds that were intended to benefit the city’s most important resource: its children.”
Machen declined to say whether others, including anyone who might have facilitated Thomas’s scheme, will be charged.
Thomas said little during his 45-minute plea hearing but assured U.S. District Judge John D. Bates that he understood the rights he was giving up by pleading guilty to two felonies: theft concerning programs receiving federal funds and filing a false tax return. Under federal guidelines, he would face 37 to 46 months in prison at his sentencing May 3. Thomas will remain free until then.
His attorneys are expected to argue for a more lenient sentence and are likely to trumpet Thomas’s ties to the community and public service.
The son of the late three-term city council member, Thomas was a star football player at Woodrow Wilson High School and went on to Bowie State University. A past president of the D.C. Young Democrats, Thomas was the vice president of public affairs for the Public Benefits Corp., the former D.C. General Hospital.
As part of the plea deal, Thomas agreed to resign from office. He also must pay restitution of $353,500 to the District government and work with the Internal Revenue Service on payments for $346,000 in income he admitted he did not declare on tax returns for 2007, 2008 and 2009. It is not clear how he would make such payments while serving time in federal prison.
The judge’s wood-paneled fourth-floor courtroom was packed Friday with spectators and reporters who watched silently as Thomas, wearing a blue suit and silver tie, pleaded guilty in a high-profile public corruption investigation, one of several now targeting elected D.C. officials.
His mother, Romaine Thomas, and wife, Diane Romo Thomas, sat in front of dozens of supporters. As the hearing neared an end, Thomas’s mother, a former public school principal, read from a Bible as she gently rocked in her seat.