“EMBEZZLED, STOLE, obtained by fraud, without authority knowingly converted to the use of a person not the rightful owner, and intentionally misapplied property.” That is the description used by federal prosecutors Thursday to formally charge D.C. Council member Harry Thomas Jr. (D-Ward 5) with the theft of $353,500 in D.C. government funds. If Mr. Thomas pleads guilty Friday morning — as he promised to do in a statement Thursday night announcing his resignation from the council — it will put to rest any ambiguity, uncertainty or denial about his malfeasance.
The four-page document filed in U.S. District Court by the U.S. Attorney’s Office charges Mr. Thomas with felony counts of theft and filing false tax returns. Mr. Thomas began pocketing public funds within months of taking his seat on the council in 2007, the document states, and then lied about his income to the federal government. More details are expected at Friday’s court hearing. Along with pleading guilty and resigning his council office, Mr. Thomas has reportedly agreed to go to prison. The maximum penalty for theft involving federal funds is 10 years’ imprisonment, while filing a false tax return carries a maximum sentence of three years’ imprisonment. Fines for both offenses are possible.
No punishment can make up for the betrayal of the public trust inherent in these crimes. Mr. Thomas represented a city ward with poignant needs. He allegedly used his position to divert money intended for D.C. children to his own personal and political benefit. Instead of opening up new worlds of sports to needy youth — the supposed promise of the nonprofit bearing his name — Mr. Thomas jetted off to luxurious golf vacations and bought himself a pricey car.
Equally disturbing is how close Mr. Thomas came to getting away with it. Few paid attention when Tim Day, a certified public accountant, raised the possibility that Mr. Thomas was using his Team Thomas nonprofit as a personal slush fund. Mr. Day was, after all, a Republican running against Mr. Thomas in an overwhelmingly Democratic ward. But this page found evidence to support Mr. Day’s allegations; D.C. attorneys general Peter Nickels and then Irvin B. Nathan pursued the inquiry, eventually demanding that Mr. Thomas repay the city; and now the U.S. attorney has stepped forward.
Meanwhile, few of Mr. Thomas’s colleagues could bring themselves to condemn his brazen abuse of power. The best that D.C. Council Chairman Kwame R. Brown (D) could summon Thursday was to be “saddened” and “disappointed” by the course of events as he hailed Mr. Thomas as a valued colleague and friend.
The spare document filed Thursday leaves open many questions, which we hope will be answered Friday, at least in part. Did federal prosecutors simply track over ground plowed by the D.C. attorneys general? Were others complicit in Mr. Thomas’s activities? Is there reason to examine other aspects of Mr. Thomas’s tenure in public office?
Nonetheless, Thursday’s action is an encouraging sign that U.S. Attorney Ronald C. Machen Jr. will not tolerate corruption in the D.C. government.