Scandal is quickly becoming the byword of Washington, D.C.’s new leadership. There was Council Chairman Kwame Brown’s pricey Lincoln Navigator and Mayor Vincent Gray’s hiring missteps and alleged quid pro quo arrangement. Now, the Attorney General’s Office is filing a $1 million lawsuit against Councilmember Harry L. Thomas Jr. (D-Ward 5) for allegedly using grant money and donations for his personal use.

D.C. Attorney General Irv Nathan said on Monday the District will seek to recover hundreds of thousands of dollars Thomas “unlawfully diverted” from council-earmarked grants and charitable donations toward the purchase of a luxury vehicle and golf vacations.

“We cannot tolerate the diversion of any of our scarce District resources, particularly by those who would use their positions of trust and influence to obtain these funds for personal gain,” Nathan stated in a press release, June 6.

In a press conference held outside the Wilson Building during the recess of a council hearing at which former mayoral candidate Sulaimon Brown repeated his pay-for-play accusations against Mayor Gray, Brown denied the charges.

“There were no shenanigans going on… I want the facts presented to the public and that’s what we’re going to do,” he said, with his lawyer at his side.

The complaint states that Thomas used more than $300,000 that had been earmarked for “youth baseball programs” and solicited without a District charitable solicitation license and a 501(c)(3) organization. An alleged $80,000 from private donors was used for claimed charitable purposes that were never established, according to the complaint.

Nathan’s office said that funds were provided by legislation in 2007 to the D.C. Children and Youth Investment Trust Corporation, which was directed by Thomas to give funds to Langston 21st Century Foundation. Thomas then allegedly channeled the money to his for-profit and non-profit corporations.

According to Nathan, Thomas spent more than $58,000 to purchase an Audi Quattro Premium sports utility vehicle, which is titled in his name. The complaint states that Thomas “knowingly made or caused to be made false statements, conspired with others to commit fraud, violated the District’s charitable solicitations law and regulations, and was unjustly enriched.”

The District is suing for more than $1 million, which includes damages for the $316,000 supposedly taken from grants, civil penalties, attorneys’ fees and costs along with an injunction against future charitable solicitations by Thomas.

Council Chairman Kwame Brown issued a statement on Monday stating he would meet with Nathan that evening to be fully briefed on the suit.

“I am greatly disheartened to learn of the civil enforcement brought against Council member Harry Thomas Jr….I will meet with my council colleagues. Then I will issue a plan of action,” Brown said in a statement.

The chairman, himself, was criticized earlier this year for requesting a luxury vehicle that cost taxpayers more than $1,500 a month. Brown later turned in his Lincoln Navigator for a cheaper car, which is not city-purchased.

The AG’s office filed a suit against Thomas on Monday in the District of Columbia Superior Court.

 

Erica Butler

AFRO Staff Writer