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Questions for 'Team Thomas'

Wednesday, October 27, 2010;

DISTRICT COUNCIL member Harry Thomas Jr. (D-Ward 5) said it is "abusive political tactics" for Attorney General Peter J. Nickles to launch an inquiry so close to the election into the organization that bears Mr. Thomas's name. On the contrary: It's an abuse of his voters for Mr. Thomas to ask them to go to the polls without full information. In the days since Mr. Thomas's Republican opponent first raised issues, we have uncovered more, and troubling, discrepancies regarding Team Thomas.

Founded in 2000, the group is billed by Mr. Thomas as a "non-profit organization for social change, citizen empowerment, community development, and youth and senior program development." The organization is not registered with the Internal Revenue Service and its registration with the D.C. government has been revoked. There's been no public accounting of how much money it has received or spent. Mr. Nickles launched his inquiry after the media reported charges by Tim Day, who is challenging Mr. Thomas in the Nov. 2 election, that the group is a "fake organization." Mr. Thomas missed Tuesday's deadline for voluntarily producing records about the charitable solicitations and expenditures of Team Thomas and now is under subpoena to produce the material by Friday. He says his attorney is working to comply.

Mr. Thomas has denied any wrongdoing, saying he never made false claims about the group. He stresses he has been mindful of ethics and, since joining the council in 2007, has tried to be careful about how the organization has operated. He stressed, for example, that the group has not received city funds since he joined the council. He depicted the group, in interviews with us as well as with Fox TV reporter Matt Ackland, as dormant in the years he has been on the council. He told Examiner columnist Jonetta Rose Barras that he established Team Thomas and another group under scrutiny before joining the council and "[hasn't] used them and [I] don't want to use them."

How then to account for donations actively being solicited as late as 2008? There was a May 2008 news release from Mr. Thomas's office touting a golf tournament to benefit the group. And we have learned of at least two donations Team Thomas received in 2008. According to sources, there was a Jan. 8, 2008, contribution from Rhode Island Avenue Metro LLC, developer of a project near the Rhode Island Metro station in Ward 5, to Team Thomas for $2,000; and a $2,600 contribution on Jan. 29, 2008, from Capitol Paving of D.C. Inc., a Ward 5 business. A spokeswoman for the development group confirmed the donation; she said she didn't know how it came about, only that there was a belief that Team Thomas did good work in the community.

The check from Capitol Paving, employees there confirmed to us, was marked "C/O Vicky Leonard-Chambers, Office of CM Thomas Room 107." "CM" would be "council member"; Room 107 refers to an office in the District Building; Victoria Leonard-Chambers is Mr. Thomas's director of policy and strategic communication. When we asked how she was involved with Team Thomas, she said, "I'm not interested in speaking with you." When we told Mr. Thomas that a Capitol Paving employee remembers being solicited by Ms. Leonard-Chambers, he said either it was a mistake or we were making it up. That employee, office manager Terry Woodfolk, said that the money went to print an annual publication and that they were glad to give because of the good work done by Mr. Thomas in Ward 5. Mr. Thomas previously told Post reporters that any monies raised went to "programming to sponsor young people's activities."

If there is nothing untoward, Mr. Thomas should welcome the opportunity to reveal who has donated to Team Thomas and how it has spent its funds. He should do so before Tuesday's election.

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