Ex-D.C. official charged in nonprofit scheme involving Harry Thomas Jr.

Millicent D. West, the District’s former homeland security director, was charged in federal court Thursday with lying on tax-related records in a scheme involving former D.C. Council member Harry Thomas Jr.

West, who previously led the D.C. Children and Youth Investment Trust Corp., is expected to plead guilty to her role in diverting more than $100,000 from the nonprofit entity to fund a 2009 political ball celebrating President Obama’s inauguration.

The event was hosted by the D.C. Young Democrats, then led by Thomas’s chief of staff. When funding for the event fell short, Thomas requested and received $110,000 from West’s nonprofit, prosecutors said.

Federal prosecutors filed a two-page charging document in the District’s federal court, accusing West of preparing false grant documents that were later used to file inaccurate tax returns with the Internal Revenue Service.

West is scheduled for a plea hearing Friday before U.S. District Judge John D. Bates. The charge carries a maximum sentence of three years in prison and a fine of up to $250,000. Under federal guidelines, West could face far less punishment.

The documents filed Thursday do not identify the trust by name or the other organizations involved, but earlier filings laid out that West’s legal troubles stem from a 2009 inauguration ball at the John A. Wilson Building.

According to court documents, West worked with Thomas and his chief of staff to send trust money intended to pay for drug prevention and helping children considered at-risk to cover the cost of the party. West suggested that Thomas find another organization to handle the payment because of concerns about cutting a check for a political group that did not have tax-exempt status. He did so, filing paperwork not mentioning the ball.

On Thursday, prosecutors alleged that West knew “the true beneficiaries of the grant funds were political entities and individuals that were neither tax­exempt nor otherwise eligible to receive the funds.”

In an earlier interview, West said she saw nothing wrong with the payment and believed that “the money was being used for a celebration calling young people together to celebrate a historic moment.”

In a statement issued by her attorney, West said she “deeply regrets her role” and said she was assured at the time by Thomas that the grant was to “pay for an event that fell within the trust’s mandate.”

As soon as she was contacted by law enforcement in late 2011, West said she cooperated and took “full responsibility” for her actions.

West, who was one of the highest-level city officials to survive the transition from the administration of former mayor Adrian M. Fenty (D) to that of Mayor Vincent C. Gray (D), resigned her post as head of the Homeland Security and Emergency Management Agency last January, saying she did not want to be a distraction because of the ongoing federal investigation.

West is the fifth person to be charged in the broader probe of Thomas, who also pleaded guilty as a result of the investigation.

Thomas is serving a 38-month prison sentence for stealing more than $350,000 from city youth programs.

Ann covers legal affairs in the District and Maryland for the Washington Post. Ann previously covered state government and politics in California, New Hampshire and Maryland. She joined the Post in 2005.
Mike DeBonis covers local politics and government for The Washington Post. He also writes a blog and a political analysis column that runs on Fridays.
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