Mr. Thomas's Audi

Friday, December 17, 2010

THE SAME YEAR that D.C. Council member Harry Thomas Jr. (D-Ward 5) raised $188,110 for his nonprofit Team Thomas, another group associated with Mr. Thomas apparently purchased an Audi sport-utility wagon, base price $58,600. A year later, in 2009, the vehicle was re-registered in Mr. Thomas's name. When we asked Mr. Thomas about the second group, how the purchase was financed, whether Team Thomas funds were involved or whether the transactions should have been listed on any of his financial disclosure forms, his attorney told us there would be no comment other than his oft-repeated statement that he has never "personally benefited." These facts, which also have attracted the interest of the D.C. attorney general, do not constitute proof of wrongdoing by Mr. Thomas. But his refusal thus far to shed light on these and other issues is troublesome and should, we hope, attract the interest of the office of campaign finance.

Team Thomas is a sports-related nonprofit that Mr. Thomas founded in 2000 and that Attorney General Peter J. Nickles contends unlawfully solicited donations without a license or ever having been qualified as tax-exempt by the Internal Revenue Service. The group has raised more than $200,000 since January 2008, and the precise use of the funds - which Mr. Thomas says supported youth programs - is unknown. We previously disclosed the use of some money ($2,600) to publish an annual report touting Mr. Thomas's accomplishments in office and an instance in which Mr. Thomas voted on the council on a matter benefiting a Team Thomas contributor. Mr. Thomas is currently under subpoena to produce additional information sought by the attorney general's office in its inquiry into Team Thomas. Among the things being examined by Mr. Nickles's office are the second organization and its apparent purchase of the Audi.

The second group is a domestic limited liability company organized by Mr. Thomas in 2004 with a stated purpose, according to its articles of organization, of "sales, development and manufacturing." The group is called HLT Team Thomas/SwingAway LLC, its address is Mr. Thomas's home and it also has been listed by Dunn & Bradstreet as doing business as HLT Development. When Mr. Thomas ran for council in 2006, he listed his occupation on an election questionnaire as chief executive of HLT Team Thomas/SwingAway LLC; on Nov. 12, 2007, the corporate registration was revoked for not filing a two-year report due in 2007. Yet in May 2008, HLT Development was listed as owner of a 2008 Audi Q7; a year later in May, the registration of the vehicle, which Mr. Thomas was seen driving this week, was switched to him. Council members are required to list any outside income they receive, and cars, under certain circumstances, could be included. It's unclear if that would be the case with Mr. Thomas. The honoraria and outside income disclosure statements Mr. Thomas filed for 2007, 2008 and 2009 list no outside income of any kind.

HLT Development also appears on records of the office of campaign finance detailing Mr. Thomas's political expenditures. In his 2006-07 campaign, the group received a total of $11,000 in five separate payments from the Harry Tommy Thomas Jr. Ward 5 Committee for catering/refreshments, loan repayment, campaign materials and consultant payment. On March 15, 2010, it received $2,500 from Thomas 2010 for computer expenses.

Frederick D. Cooke Jr., one of Mr. Thomas's attorneys, told us that it's wrong to assume that the council member has done anything wrong. We certainly do not make that assumption. It's quite possible that donations to Team Thomas funded good causes, that Mr. Thomas used his own money to purchase the car and that all transactions have been properly documented. That Mr. Thomas - who once promised complete transparency about Team Thomas - wants to keep the public in the dark on these issues is what is of concern.

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