Correction to This Article
An earlier version of this editorial incorrectly reported that D.C. Council member Harry Thomas Jr. (D-Ward 5) introduced legislation on an emergency basis. The legislation was introduced on the regular calendar.

The tangled tales of Harry Thomas

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Sunday, December 12, 2010; 7:57 PM

QUESTIONS CONTINUE to emerge about the conduct of D.C. Council member Harry Thomas Jr. (D-Ward 5) in operating a sports nonprofit that bears his name. It now appears that Mr. Thomas voted in support of legislation directly benefiting one of the contributors to Team Thomas. His attorney had suggested earlier that such a vote would probably have required disclosure. But it appears there was no disclosure.

Team Thomas, founded in 2000 purportedly as a vehicle to help the city's youth, emerged as an issue before the November election when Mr. Thomas's opponent accused him of operating a "slush fund" and called on him to document its finances. The group has never been qualified as a tax-exempt organization by the Internal Revenue Service, and its registration with the D.C. government has been revoked. Mr. Thomas originally promised full and transparent accounting of his group's activities, but a number of his statements have turned out to be false and much about the organization has yet to be disclosed.

Before the election, Mr. Thomas said that Team Thomas had been dormant since he joined the council in 2007. But under threat of subpoena from the D.C. attorney general's office, Mr. Thomas revealed that Team Thomas had raised more than $200,000 from January 2008 to the present. He has yet to disclose who donated money or detail how the funds were solicited or used, saying only that donations funded youth programs and some of his own travel to out-of-town, sports-related events. Mr. Thomas further claimed that his council office was not involved in raising funds, but e-mails show that a top aide solicited a contribution and arranged for the check to be sent to Mr. Thomas's council office.

The latest discrepancy centers on the Jan. 8, 2008, donation of $2,000, which we disclosed in an earlier editorial, from Rhode Island Avenue Metro LLC, a joint venture developing a mixed-use project near the Rhode Island Avenue-Brentwood Metro station in Mr. Thomas's ward. Fred Cooke Jr., one of Mr. Thomas's attorneys, had argued that the council member violated no ethics or conduct laws in raising money for a private concern but that the council member would have had an obligation to report any contribution that personally benefited Mr. Thomas (say, by financing his travel) if the contributor had business before the council. Mr. Cooke told us Nov. 23 that he was not aware of any such situation.

Council records, however, show that Mr. Thomas was one of 12 council members who voted on Dec. 16, 2008, to authorize a $7.2 million payment in lieu of taxes and a $1 million exemption of sales tax on construction material benefiting Rhode Island Avenue Metro LLC. Mr. Thomas's financial disclosure form for that year says that he had no conflict of interest with any company doing business with the District.

More recently, on Nov. 5, Mr. Thomas introduced legislation that was tentatively approved last week by the council that would make $625,000 available to the firm to fill a gap in its financing. A registered lobbyist for Rhode Island Avenue Metro LLC is John Ray, of Manatt, Phelps & Phillips, who is also working as a lawyer for Mr. Thomas. A phone call to Rhode Island Avenue Metro was not returned. Mr. Cooke said Friday that there was no need for Mr. Thomas to disclose any contribution since "Mr. Thomas did not personally benefit from contributions to Team Thomas."

On Wednesday a Superior Court judge dismissed Mr. Thomas's objections to having to produce more information about Team Thomas and gave him until Jan. 8 to produce documents requested by the attorney general. Judge Stephen F. Eilperin is the second judge to order Mr. Thomas to cooperate with the probe. So it was troubling to hear Mayor-elect Vincent C. Gray deride the effort Thursday as possibly being politically motivated - and reassuring to hear from his spokeswoman that he nonetheless will not interfere as the inquiry proceeds.


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