Wash Post Editorial: The Thomas Settlement

Harry Thomas’s unsatisfying settlement

By Editorial, Published: July 23

THE AGREEMENT by D.C. Council member Harry Thomas Jr. (D-Ward 5) to repay the District the taxpayer dollars he was accused of diverting for his personal and political use spares the city the expense of proving its case in court. It also spares Mr. Thomas from having to own up to his actions, and that’s too high a price. The continued service of Mr. Thomas on the council is an affront that should not be tolerated any longer.

Attorney General Irvin B. Nathan announced Friday that his office had reached a settlement over claims that money earmarked for youth programs was used by Mr. Thomas for items such as a luxury car and golf vacations. Mr. Thomas agreed to repay $300,000, transfer ownership of various sports equipment to youth groups and to refrain for five years from heading up any charitable organization. The settlement was accompanied by an initial payment of $50,000. In return, the District dropped a civil lawsuit that had sought $1 million in penalties and other costs.

Mr. Nathan was acting in the city’s interests in recouping its money, but the agreement doesn’t provide needed answers. It maddeningly allows Mr. Thomas to insist, as he did Friday, that there was no wrongdoing on his behalf. “These actions are being taken to ensure that the trust the public has placed in me is maintained and honored,” he had the temerity to proclaim. Well, if Mr. Thomas did nothing wrong, why did he agree to give the city $300,000? Where will the money come from? How come he has never accounted — despite repeated promises — for his actions?

The lawsuit brought by Mr. Nathan detailed with convincing evidence damning allegations of a council member abusing the trust placed in him to loot the city treasury. Golf at Pebble Beach, an Audi SUV and $143.71 to Hooters all apparently were put on the District’s tab. According to the lawsuit, money budgeted by the council in 2007 for youth baseball was directed by Mr. Thomas to the Langston 21st Century Foundation, which, in turn, funneled it to Team Thomas, the nonprofit founded and controlled by Mr. Thomas. The council member also solicited contributions from private concerns, including some who did business with the city. Because the settlement was reached on the very day he was ordered to respond to the lawsuit, Mr. Thomas was off the hook on having to answer the charges.

“Taxpayers are owed an answer — not a settlement,” said council member David Catania (I-At Large) as he rightly called on Mr. Thomas to resign. Council member Mary M. Cheh (D-Ward 3) said Mr. Thomas should consider resigning, but other council members and Mayor Vincent C. Gray (D) stayed mum about the obscenity of Mr. Thomas continuing to collect a paycheck from the city he stands accused of defrauding.

The settlement does not shield Mr. Thomas from possible criminal prosecution, but it is likely that his attorneys — who now include noted defender Abbe Lowell — will try to use it as a bargaining chip with the U.S. Attorney’s Office, which is conducting its own review of Mr. Thomas’s activities. We hope that U.S. Attorney Ronald Machen insists on getting the answers that Mr. Thomas has so far refused to provide.

Kevin Wrege, Esq.

Founder & President

Pulse Issues & Advocacy LLC

Office: 202-625-1787

Mobile: 202-253-4929

4410 Massachusetts Ave., NW, #150

Washington, DC 20016

Washington Post Editorial: More on Gray Campaign Fundraising Issues

More questions about Vince Gray’s mayoral campaign

By Editorial, Published: July 19

CONFRONTED WITH a series of unsettling disclosures about his campaign for mayor and the start of his fledging administration, D.C. Mayor Vincent C. Gray (D) has had some stock answers. “Missteps” were made; he wasn’t aware of wrongdoing; he couldn’t recall certain events; he put his trust in others. So his reaction to the latest disclosure is disheartening but not surprising.

“If mistakes were made, the campaign should be held accountable,” was the statement he released Tuesday in response to revelations of questionable money transactions in his campaign last September to unseat then-Mayor Adrian M. Fenty (D). An investigation by The Post’s Nikita Stewart found instances in which money donated above the $25 limit for cash contributions was improperly converted into money orders, for which there are higher limits. The review found $56,000 donated through 233 money orders; most of the money came from the city’s taxicab industry, although there were some cases in which donations were made under the names of people who insisted they didn’t make the contributions. Mr. Gray said he did not authorize the practice. Revelations about the money orders — which could constitute violations of campaign finance laws punishable by fine or imprisonment — come as the U.S. attorney is probing allegations by failed mayoral candidate Sulaimon Brown that he was paid (sometimes in money orders) and promised a job in return for political attacks on Mr. Fenty. Mr. Gray has said he only promised Mr. Brown a job interview and was not aware of any payments.

The use of money orders for campaign donations is rare; Mr. Fenty’s campaign, which raised nearly $5 million compared with Mr. Gray’s $2.7 million, recorded just 11. Most donors use checks or credit cards; cash is harder to track and that’s one reason that it is restricted. Mr. Gray said he entered the race late and so his campaign was “truncated” and “chaotic.” How does that explain the extra effort — actually going to a store and paying a fee — to convert cash into money orders? If it wasn’t done to get around the cash limits, what explanation is there?

Particularly troubling is the account by Nathan Price of the Professional Taxicab Drivers Association of a meeting attended by Mr. Gray in which a bucket was passed around the room to collect cash — “money was flowing” — for him. Mr. Gray said he spoke at the event but doesn’t remember the cash solicitation. Since becoming mayor, Mr. Gray has taken a couple of steps sought by the drivers, including unseating the head of the taxicab commission whom drivers reviled because he helped engineer the switch from zones to meters. Never mind that Leon J. Swain Jr. had proven his integrity by cooperating with a federal probe into cab corruption. No explanation was given for his dismissal, save the mayor’s desire to go in a new direction.

If Mr. Gray is, as he says, uninvolved in any wrongdoing, there is still the question of his judgment in picking people to entrust with important duties and in dismissing qualified officials while hiring unqualified relatives of supporters. In his statement he expressed regret that “unresolved issues from the campaign continue to surface.” It seems there is more to regret than that.

Kevin Wrege, Esq.

Founder & President

Pulse Issues & Advocacy LLC

Office: 202-625-1787

Mobile: 202-253-4929

4410 Massachusetts Ave., NW, #150

Washington, DC 20016

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