Former D.C. Councilman Harry Thomas Jr. was sentenced to more than three years in prison Thursday for stealing $353,500 in public money meant for youth sports, an act that prosecutors described as a betrayal of the public trust.
Thomas, who represented Ward 5 for five years until he resigned in January as part of his guilty plea, was allowed to leave court with his family and has agreed to surrender at a federal prison to serve his 38-month term when ordered.
"This is my weakest moment in my life," Thomas, 51, told U.S. District Court Judge John Bates, adding that he has had time to reflect on his crimes after a lifetime of working with local kids through sports programs.
|3 years, 2 months: incarceration|
|3 years: supervised release|
|Restitution: to be determined by judge|
|Where: Thomas' attorneys have requested he serve at minimum-security prisons in either Pensacola, Fla., or Montgomery, Ala.|
"I concluded I took that money because there was a sense of entitlement," he said. "What happened, clearly, was I took office and lost touch with the values I cling to now more than ever."
Just 10 blocks down Pennsylvania Avenue, some of Thomas' former colleagues reacted with a mix of sadness for his family and approval of the punishment.
Council Chairman Kwame Brown and Mayor Vincent Gray, whose campaigns are both under federal investigation, issued separate statements saying justice had been served and it was time to move on.
But at least one lawmaker doesn't see it that way.
"This is nothing new -- it is a reminder," said at-large Councilman Phil Mendelson. "To me, it's more about reminding us that there are ethical issues in the government and our people do steal."
In addition to Thomas, two officials from the nonprofit he used to funnel the grant money to himself from the city-run Children and Youth Investment Trust Corp. have already pleaded guilty for their roles in the scheme. Still, many questions remain unanswered -- the trust is still under multiple investigations, and a recent council committee report found Thomas likely had help from within the trust.
Although Thomas received a far greater prison term than the 18-month sentence his attorneys sought, he didn't receive the 46 months prosecutors urged.
Jonathan Haray, the government's lead prosecutor in the case, said Thomas' deeds merited a harsh sentence because he had taken from programs meant for needy children -- while portraying himself as a champion for the District's youth -- and the court should send a message to other city officials.
"Make it clear -- if you steal from the people you serve, you will pay a high price," Haray said. "Elected officials ... need to know they will be punished for the kind of crimes Harry Thomas committed."
Thomas also received a 36-month prison sentence for lying on his tax returns, but Thomas will serve that term while he's incarcerated for the theft.
He will be under supervised release after his prison term.