January 7, 2012

TWO HOURS after former D.C. Council member Harry Thomas Jr. stood before a judge and admitted guilt in a callous scheme that defrauded the city of tens of thousands of dollars, the U.S. attorney who prosecuted him spoke with a moral clarity that offered a refreshing contrast to the timidity and evasions of other city leaders.

“There has been much speculation as to what this prosecution means with respect to other ongoing investigations of corruption in our city,” said Ronald C. Machen Jr. “Quite simply, all I will say about that is that the message is very simple: If public officials fail to act with honor and integrity in carrying out their official duties, there will be consequences, and they will be held accountable.”

Mr. Thomas’s guilty plea on Friday in U.S. District Court to felony theft and tax charges came as the government laid out in 21 pages of depressing detail how the Ward 5 Democrat used his public office to enrich himself to the tune of $353,500 in taxpayer dollars. Some of the information had been revealed in a civil action brought by the city’s attorney general: how Mr. Thomas used the Children and Youth Investment Trust Corp. to direct city grant money to a nonprofit that funneled most of it back to entities controlled by him and how he used those funds to buy himself nice trips and a fancy car. But the federal investigation uncovered additional dollars swindled and additional organizations and individuals involved (unnamed because the investigation continues).

It also provided new details about Mr. Thomas’s craven conduct. Even before taking office in January 2007, he was working to get government funds for an organization that would kick back money to him. He appropriated tax dollars designated for drug prevention for children at risk to pay for a presidential inaugural ball organized by the D.C. Young Democrats.

It was actions like that that led Ronald T. Hosko, special agent in charge of the criminal division of the FBI’s Washington office, to bristle as he joined Mr. Machen at a news conference Friday.

“I watched news coverage last night and was surprised,” Mr. Hosko said. “One public official characterized this as ‘Thomas finding himself in this situation.’ This is not that all — he put himself in this situation, he designed the situation, he directed it. I line up with one of the news commentators who asked: ‘Where’s the outrage?’ ”

The list of Mr. Thomas’s victims includes companies duped or pressured into donating to a charity they were told would give poor kids a chance to play sports. It includes the children who never got that chance. It includes Ward 5 constituents, city taxpayers, the city itself and its reputation.

As Mr. Hosko implied, the list of victims most emphatically does not include Mr. Thomas. For more than a year Mr. Thomas portrayed all accusations against him as fabrications, especially by Republican rival Tim Day, former attorney general Peter J. Nickles and the Post editorial page. “There is no settlement that I would make that would imply that there was some wrongdoing on my part,” he said. On Friday he apologized to the city, but he has yet to explain his actions.

The official paraphrased by Mr. Hosko was council member Mary M. Cheh (D-Ward 3), but she at least called a while back for Mr. Thomas to step down. Mayor Vincent C. Gray (D), a longtime Thomas ally, never showed that moral fiber. After Mr. Thomas’s guilty plea, the mayor again had nothing to say to his city. The silence is puzzling.

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