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Moments after convicted felon and disgraced former Ward 5 Councilmember Harry Thomas Jr. was sentenced to 38 months in prison, he marched silently past a scrum of reporters outside the U.S. District Court House and hopped into his awaiting ride: a luxury German sport utility vehicle.
It was an ironic choice, given that Thomas will be going to prison for stealing city money and spending much of it on a luxury German SUV.
Herewith, some other ironies from this morning’s court proceedings:
1) Send me somewhere sunny, I don’t care if it’s far from my family!
Near the very end of today’s court hearing, one of Thomas’ lawyers told the judge of his client’s preference to be sent to federal prison in either Pensacola, Fla., or Montgomery, Ala. These two prisons made the top two on some goofy list of the best federal prisons to be sent to.
Why is this ironic? LL loves sunshine as much as the next guy, but Thomas and his legal team spent much of today’s court hearing playing up the fact that Thomas is a big family man. His mother, Romaine Thomas, pleaded with Judge John D. Bates for mercy and leniency on behalf of Thomas’ family, particularly his young children. Thomas’ legal team even submitted letters from Thomas’ kids talking how much their father means to them.
But then Thomas goes and asks to be sent to prisons that are both more than 800 miles away from D.C.!
Keep in mind that Thomas doesn’t have any money for his family to take long trips to come visit. Bates said in court that he decided not to assess Thomas a fine in part because he doesn’t have the means to pay it; Thomas has already fallen behind on a payment plan he agreed to as part of a civil settlement with the District. There are other prisons Thomas could have requested within driving distance of D.C., they’re just not as nice.
LL shouted a question at Thomas about his prison selection while he was walking out of the courthouse, but Thomas didn’t respond. One of his attorneys, Fred Cooke Jr., says he wasn’t part of that discussion.
2) Watch and learn kids: This is how you take responsibility for your mistakes.
The most audacious moment in today’s hearing came courtesy of Thomas attorney Karl Racine, who somehow managed a straight face while trying to spin Thomas’ guilty plea into an example of his committment to teaching the city’s youth about integrity and responsibility.
“By the way,” Racine said, Thomas was “still providing” lessons for children on how to “take responsibility when you have done wrong.”
Racine must have conveniently forgotten that for more than a year, Thomas strongly denied any wrongdoing, painting the investigation as a politically motivated witchhunt. “This is a very sensitive issue,” Thomas said in November 2010, when the investigation against him was just getting started. “My life’s work is being questioned.”
After District Attorney General Irv Nathan sued him last June for stealing city funds, Thomas drove up to the Wilson Building in the $70,000 Audi SUV he’d bought with stolen city money and held a news conference where he declared that he’d done nothing wrong and was going to fight Nathan’s lawsuit ’til the bitter end.
“I’m willing to risk everything I have,” Thomas said then, striking a pose notable for its lack of responsibility-taking.
Even after settling the civil suit, Thomas was still a long way from any sort of mea culpa. “As I have stated before, the allegations in the attorney general’s complaint about there being no service provided and a purposeful misuse of any funds are not true,” Thomas said in a statement that LL is unlikely to ever hold up as a lesson for his own young’un. Thomas’ only admission back then? Sloppy record-keeping.
After that, Thomas pretty much kept his mouth shut anytime someone asked about the investigation. But when the feds raided Thomas’ house in December and carted away his Chevy Tahoe* and the $24,000 motorcycle he’d also bought with stolen money, Racine was still proclaiming Thomas’ innocence.
“At the conclusion of this matter, we sincerely believe that there will be no finding of any criminal violations,” Racine said at the time.
Yeah, real sincere. A month later, Thomas pleaded guilty.
The truth of the matter is that Thomas only copped to his crimes because he’d run out of options, not because it was the right thing to do—and certainly not with any thought to how it might teach children a valuable lesson.
3) I’m really sorry for what I’ve done, but I ain’t paying for all the money you lost.
During the cathartic soliloquy portion of today’s hearing, Thomas professed his deep love for the District of Columbia and offered an apology for hurting the city with his actions.
“Most importantly, I hurt the interests of the District of Columbia, which I love,” Thomas said.
But, as they say, money talks, which means Thomas must not love the District that much. A good chunk of today’s legal wrangling between the judge and Thomas’ legal team was over how much restitution Thomas owes the city. The U.S. Probation Office and Nathan argue that Thomas should have to pay $92,500 more than Thomas agreed to pay as part of his plea agreement. The difference of opinion is over the $100,000 Thomas took from the Public Fund for Drug Prevention and Children at Risk fund and spent on an inaugural ball at the Wilson Building. The short version: Thomas says he should only have to pay back the $7,500 of the drug prevention money that went directly to him. The city says he should have to pay back the full $100,000 that he steered towards paying for the ball. (LL’s already detailed the respective arguments here; and yesterday noted that about $230,000 of that drug prevention fund is now missing.)
Bates indicated that he’s heavily leaning towards siding with Nathan and requiring Thomas to pay the additional $92,500 in restitution, saying only the full amount would “make the victims of this crime whole.” But the judge decided to hold off on making that decision today, and well have to wait a few weeks until we learn how much Thomas will have to repay the city.
Court is adjourned.
Photo by Darrow Montgomery
* Correction: Due to a reporting error, this post misidentified the vehicle seized from Thomas’ home in December. It was a Chevy Tahoe, not an Audi.