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From the Publisher's Desk...

PUBLIC CORRUPTION REACHES APPALLING NEW LOW

Last month our city council was grappling with what it believed will solve a whole host of ethics in government problems — to wit, the “Board of Ethics and Government Accountability Establishment and Comprehensive Ethics Reform Amendment Act of 2011,” introduced by Ward 4 Councilmember Muriel Bowser on behalf of the Committee on Government Operations which she chairs.

Unfortunately, the consensus among most local commentators, community activists, and knowledgeable citizens was fairly negative. We, ourselves, raised at least two major issues in our December editorial (“City Council’s Attempt to Deal With Ethics Reform Has Too Many Flaws,” issue PDF page 2).

Now, this month our city council members have to grapple with wondering which one of them will be criminally charged for playing loosie-goosie with campaign funds or –- heaven forbid — pay for play. Meanwhile, citizens across the city are voicing criticism for what seems to be an oddly low-key reaction by council members to the Harry Thomas affair. Actually, “voicing criticism” is too mild of a characterization; there is not a single person with whom we have spoken who has not expressed total outrage over what they view as virtual silence on the part of the politicians.

Yes, it is true that most did the usual thing of putting out press releases stating what a sad day all this was for the city and for the Thomas family –- all very lovely, but where was the publicly stated actual outrage? We have not seen any evidence that a single politician has called for a change in the law that allows someone convicted of stealing from the public treasury or otherwise egregious acts adversely affecting the citizens under color of law from qualifying for a seat on the city council. True, that probably requires an amendment to the Home Rule Act, but that shouldn’t be a reason for any of our political leaders not to initiate whatever process is necessary to implement such a restriction.

So, what did Ward 5 Councilmember Harry L. Thomas, Jr. do that caused the United States Attorney for the District of Columbia to issue a 29-count Statement of Offense to which defendant Thomas, at his January 6th plea hearing stated, “Guilty as charged”? In a nutshell, he stole $350,000 of public funds for his personal benefit. Or, as U.S. Attorney Ronald C. Machen, Jr.’s count 19 in the charging document states with respect to just a fraction of the total stolen –- but what is stated clearly applies to the entirety of the stolen funds:

“Beginning at least as early as in or about April 2007 and continuing until at least in or about February 2009, as set forth below, in the District of Columbia, THOMAS embezzled, stole, obstructed by fraud, without authority knowingly converted to the use of a person not the rightful owner, and intentionally misapplied property . . . under the care of, under the custody of, and under the control of the District of Columbia, in violation of Title 18, United States Code, . . . .” (The complete Statement of Offense document is posted at http://dcwatch.com/council/ethics111223b.htm.

But that wasn’t all; filing false federal tax returns was the other shoe being dropped, or as stated in the Statement of Offense:

“Between in or about October 2008 and in or about May 2011, in the District of Columbia, THOMAS did willfully make and subscribe individual Income Tax Returns for the calendar years 2007, 2008 and 2009, which were verified by a written declaration that it was made under penalties of perjury and which he did not believe to be true and correct as to every material matter [and]

“For the years 2007 through 2009, THOMAS prepared and filed tax returns with the Internal Revenue Service (“IRS”) in the District of Columbia that under-reported his income by failing to disclose the payments from the grant funds that he had received through HLT and TEAM THOMAS from INDIVIDUAL #1, . . . .” (According to DC Watch, that unnamed individual is none other than Neil Rodgers who served as the staff director of the city council’s Committee on Libraries, Parks, Recreation, and Planning of which Councilmember Thomas was chairman.)

What has especially outraged us beyond our usual outrage regarding corruption and criminality of public officials is that the funds that Thomas diverted for his personal use were intended for the purpose of funding youth baseball and related programs. So, it is not just the taxpayers that have been hurt but it is also kids from neighborhoods where those sports opportunities were of enormous value. To do this to the very same kids he continually intoned from the council’s dais and at almost every public event was his greatest priority and that it was his mission to do all that he possibly could for the kids . . . well, the hypocrisy is incredibly disgusting. His acts were far worse than simply stealing from the public trough; he was stealing from helpless kids –- that was truly evil.