The Washington Post

Thomas scam leads youth nonprofit to fire CEO

The CYITC shake-up continues the fallout from Thomas’s prosecution. (Jahi Chikwendiu/WASHINGTON POST)

The board of the Children and Youth Investment Trust Corp. voted to fire President and CEO Ellen London, who had headed the group since 2010.

The board’s chairwoman, Winifred Carson Smith, confirmed the move but declined to discuss the decision.

London was thrust into the post-Thomas spotlight in February, when e-mails emerged showing that she had dealt with Thomas aides and participated in internal discussions regarding payments the Trust made to nonprofit groups. Those groups later kicked back most of the money to Thomas and filed fraudulent paperwork to cover their tracks.

There is no evidence Trust officials knew of the theft scheme, but the e-mails show rules were bent to get the Thomas-affiliated groups paid at his aides’ behest.

Bill Treanor, a veteran youth advocate and the board’s treasurer, said the decision was due to a “combination of things,” including the questions raised by the Thomas affair.

“We’ve really been under the gun,” he said.

London, he said, was “definitely not a prime mover” in the Thomas grants, but he said the board needed to take action to address growing doubts about the group’s practices. “It just seemed it was time for a change,” he said.

London had no comment Wednesday evening. She had appeared earlier in the day before a D.C. Council committee reviewing the Trust’s fiscal 2013 budget. Jim Graham (D-Ward 1), who led the hearing as chair of the Human Service Committee, said he had questions for the board regarding the termination and would include it in a report shortly forthcoming on the Trust’s oversight of grant funds.

“She was attempting to work very hard under very difficult circumstances,” he said.

Mary A. Terrell, a retired D.C. Superior Court judge, will take over the Trust’s leadership on a temporary basis, Treanor said. Terrell served as a judge from 1997 to 2008 and is a founder of the High Tea Society, a well-regarded nonprofit that targets high-risk girls.

Treanor said the shake-up is prelude to a broader rethinking of the Trust and how it aggregates funds and delivers it to youth service providers

In recent years, the Trust has seen its nongovernment funding dry up, and the D.C. government has not picked up the slack. This year, Mayor Vincent C. Gray (D) is proposing to maintain funding for the group at $3 million — a decision that, given growing costs, is tantamount to a cut.

“We’ve got to do something or we’re just going to die a slow death,” Treanor said.

Thomas, who resigned in January shortly before pleading guilty to federal theft and tax charges, awaits sentencing on May 3.

Mike DeBonis covers Congress and national politics for The Washington Post. He previously covered D.C. politics and government from 2007 to 2015.


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