Saturday, 3 December 2011

WaPo editorial: The FBI comes calling on Harry Thomas Jr.

The FBI comes calling on Harry Thomas Jr.

By Editorial, Published: December 2

FEDERAL AGENTS swarmed the house of D.C. Council member Harry Thomas Jr. (D-Ward 5) on Friday morning. It was unsettling to watch officers haul vehicles and bags of material away from the home of an elected city official in the nation’s capital. But it was also reassuring to see that law enforcement takes seriously allegations about an official misusing his office and abusing the public trust.

Officers from the FBI and Internal Revenue Service spent all day and into the night searching Mr. Thomas’s house in a quiet cul-de-sac in Northeast Washington. Yellow police tape cordoned off media and bystanders. A Chevy Tahoe truck and a red motorcycle were confiscated; bags and boxes of papers and other material were taken away. Said the U.S. Attorney’s Office: “Today’s law enforcement action is in conjunction with an ongoing investigation. Because the investigation is continuing, there will be no further comment at this time.”

Questions surfaced about Mr. Thomas more than a year ago. Tim Day, the Republican challenging Mr. Thomas in his bid for reelection last fall, charged that Team Thomas, a nonprofit run by the council member, ostensibly to help D.C. youth, was a “slush fund” that was neither registered with the IRS nor in good standing with the city government. Mr. Thomas’s repeated promises to fully account for the funds were never kept. So we started looking into Team Thomas’s activities.

What we found was troubling. His claim that the nonprofit had been dormant since he joined the council in 2007 was not true. Equally false was his denial that council office staffers were involved in raising funds. We found instances in which companies with business before the council contributed to Team Thomas. Mr. Thomas did not recuse himself or disclose the relationship.

Most disturbing were discoveries about the use of the funds. Some $2,600 of Team Thomas money went to the publication and distribution of an annual report that essentially extolled Mr. ­Thomas’s work as a council member. An unusual sequence of events resulted in the purchase of a luxury Audi sport-utility vehicle that ended up in Mr. Thomas’s possession.

An investigation by then-D.C. attorney general Peter Nickles and his successor, Irvin B. Nathan, uncovered evidence of taxpayer dollars being misused. In addition to the more than $80,000 in private funds that were solicited, the attorney general alleged that Mr. Thomas used his office to funnel $316,000 of public money, earmarked by the council in 2007 for youth baseball, to entities he controlled for his personal and political benefit, including luxury travel such as a golfing vacation at Pebble Beach, Calif.

“Willful, intentional and knowing” were Mr. Nathan’s words in June when he filed a civil lawsuit against Mr. Thomas. A month later, Mr. Thomas — without admitting any liability and continuing to deny he did anything wrong — agreed to repay the city $300,000; $50,000 was paid at the time of the settlement, and another $50,000 is due at the end of this month.

No charges have been brought against Mr. Thomas, and he has remained on the council, albeit shorn of his committee chairmanship. He was reported to be inside his house during Friday’s search, along with two attorneys. One of them issued a brief statement that Mr. Thomas is cooperating with authorities and that “we sincerely believe that there will be no finding of any criminal violations.” No other explanation was forthcoming, which is in keeping with Mr. Thomas’s refusal these many months to provide any accounting of his actions. We hope these events augur a time when the public gets the answers it deserves.

No comments: