D.C. Council member Harry Thomas Jr. (D-Ward 5) is relinquishing control of the powerful Economic Development Committee while authorities investigate allegations he used more than $300,000 in taxpayer funds for his personal use.
Council Chairman Kwame R. Brown made the announcement in a statement e-mailed Wednesday evening, a day after the council’s 13 members met privately to hear from Thomas and share their own concerns.
Thomas has vowed to fight the allegations and he initially resisted calls to step down from the committee post, but he submitted a letter to Brown Thursday requesting to do so.
“I hold our institution in the highest regard,” Thomas wrote. “Therefore, any diminution of my personal prerogatives must be secondary to the Council and its perception among District residents.”
Brown said in the statement that the committee’s responsibilities would be temporarily transferred to the Committee of the Whole, controlled by Brown. It delays an unprecedented and difficult decision to potentially reshuffle council panels mid-term.
Attorney General Irvin B. Nathan filed a civil suit against Thomas Monday, alleging that he directed city funds via a D.C. Council earmark to a nonprofit that in turn sent $316,000 back to groups controlled by Thomas. He also stands accused of illicitly spending more than $80,000 in charitable donations on personal expenses. Thomas is said to have bought a $60,000 Audi SUV, use of a Nationals Park suite, golf outings and travel with the ill-gotten funds. Thomas said Monday he would provide proof the money was spent on its intended uses.
More from Thomas’s letter: “I make this request so as to allow the economic development functions of the Council to go forward free of any scrutiny that may be caused by the allegations raised against me by the Attorney General. ... As we have discussed, the recent allegations made against me, though still simply allegations, are very serious. I remind this body that I have the right to defend myself against those allegations. I am adamant in my belief that as this matter is fully vetted, there will be a positive outcome and resolution for all involved. It is my full expectation that I will be restored to the chairmanship of the Council Committee on Economic Development once this matter comes to the resolution that I anticipate.”