Although Thomas did not admit wrongdoing, the settlement underscores the growing legal and political pressures facing several high-profile District leaders accused of ethical misconduct. The case also stands as a significant early accomplishment for the city’s new attorney general, Irvin B. Nathan, who has stressed that he will aggressively pursue allegations of mismanagement or corruption at city hall.
“Our unrelenting persistence in bringing and prosecuting this action demonstrates our commitment to pursue anyone, no matter his or her station or influence, who would deprive the city of its precious resources,” said Nathan, who was the House of Representatives’ chief counsel on Capitol Hill before becoming the city’s top lawyer in January.
Thomas did not return calls seeking comment Friday, but he issued a statement saying that he settled the lawsuit “in the best interest of the city.”
“I have used my role as a council member to tend to the needs and interests of those who I have the privilege to serve,” he said. “These actions are being taken to ensure that the trust the public has placed in me is maintained and honored.”
But the settlement will likely renew calls for the two-term council member to resign from a body hobbled by several recent ethical controversies.
In June, following an investigation initiated by former attorney general Peter Nickles, Nathan filed a civil suit against Thomas in D.C. Superior Court, alleging that about $392,000 in city funds for “youth baseball programs” was given to an organization that had close ties to Thomas. That group then diverted about three-quarters of the money, totaling just over $300,000, to a nonprofit entity, Team Thomas, which Thomas controlled.
According to the lawsuit, Team Thomas used some of the money to purchase a $59,000 Audi sport-utility vehicle for Thomas and pay for vacations to Las Vegas and Pebble Beach, Calif.
Friday was the deadline for Thomas to formally respond to the suit, which sought $1 million for repayment of the grant money in addition to damages, attorneys’ fees and other costs.
After several weeks of on-again off-again settlement talks, Nathan said his office and Thomas’s attorneys struck a deal late Thursday to settle the case.
Thomas neither admits nor denies guilt under the terms of the settlement. But Thomas, son of the late three-term Ward 5 council member Harry Thomas Sr., delivered a $50,000 cashier’s check to the D.C. treasurer’s office Friday afternoon as part of the deal. Thomas, who makes $125,583 annually as a council member, will also have to make five additional $50,000 payments to the city by Dec. 31, 2013, according to documents filed with the D.C. Superior Court. Thomas also has five days to donate sports equipment, valued at $50,000 and in the possession of Team Thomas, to a city-sanctioned youth sports program.