A former D.C. boxing champion was sentenced Wednesday to 2 1 / 2 years in prison for siphoning more than $200,000 in grant money to pay for his gambling habit, concert tickets and other personal expenses.
Keely Thompson, the former executive director of Keely’s District Boxing and Youth Center, pleaded guilty in June to a federal charge of wire fraud. He admitted taking $105,000 of the grant money meant to help at-risk youths and using it to gamble at Bally’s casino in Atlantic City and on a Norwegian Cruise Line ship.
U.S. District Judge Emmet G. Sullivan called Thompson’s conduct “outrageous.”
“Those children didn’t have the opportunity they could have had because the money wasn’t there,” Sullivan said, before sentencing Thompson to 30 months.
As part of the plea deal, similar charges were dismissed against Thompson’s wife, Bianca, who was the youth center’s deputy director.
Thompson’s attorney, Troy W. Poole, said in court that prosecutors should have recommended a lesser sentence because his client provided information that led to a separate investigation of a D.C. council member.
But prosecutors said Thompson’s allegations that he had given the council member $50,000 in bribes in exchange for grant money never checked out. They portrayed Thompson as an unreliable source who gave conflicting accounts in interviews with investigators.
From 2004 to 2009, Thompson’s center received more than $1.4 million in city grants. The money came from the D.C. Children and Youth Investment Trust Corp., the office of the deputy mayor for planning and economic development, and the D.C. Council.
The council member was not named in the courtroom, but after the hearing, Thompson identified him as Jim Graham (D-Ward 1).
“That’s a lie,” Graham said when asked Wednesday about Thompson’s claims. “I never received one dollar from Keely. I can’t speak for other members of the council, but I know I was the one who blew the whistle on Keely Thompson.”
Graham released a letter dated Oct. 30, 2009, in which he alerted Inspector General Charles J. Willoughby to “possible financial irregularities” at Thompson’s nonprofit organization.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Seth B. Waxman said his office went to great lengths to pursue Thompson’s bribery allegations to “see if there was some nugget.”As part of the investigation, his office considered but ultimately decided against having Thompson wear a recording device.
The allegations were “uncorroborated and unsubstantiated,” Waxman said. Prosecutors have not brought any charges against Graham.
Thompson, 48, grew up in the District and fought professionally in the late 1980s and early 1990s, becoming a lightweight champion. He opened his center in a church basement on Columbia Road in 2004.
Poole portrayed Thompson as a positive role model for thousands of children. For years, Thompson refused to acknowledge his gambling problem.
“I was in such denial. I had this bad, bad habit,” Thompson told the judge. “But I would never have hurt no kids. I loved training kids.”
Prosecutors, however, were not convinced that Thompson had provided sufficient assistance to merit a recommended reduction in his potential prison term. Waxman asked for a sentence of 27 to 33 months, in part to send a message to the public.
“Thompson represents yet another example,” Waxman wrote in a court filing, “in what has become a far too common pattern of individuals who have placed their own needs and desires above the people/children they serve.”
Mike DeBonis contributed to this report.