Loose Lips

Where The Team Thomas Money Went

Hooters, Country Clubs: Where D.C. Councilmember Harry Thomas Jr.'s Nonprofit Spent Money

What do a $143.71 tab at Hooters, an $84.74 bill at Bed Bath & Beyond, and a $350 payment to a Maryland-based animal trapper have in common?

They’re all charges made during a one-week span in October 2009 on the debit card belonging to Team Thomas, the nonprofit then run by Ward 5 Councilmember Harry Thomas Jr. that was supposed to help introduce the District’s youth to golf, baseball, softball, and tennis.

And they’re also expenses that you, if you’re a District taxpayer, might have helped pay for, says Attorney General Irv Nathan.

It’s not just a tasteless restaurant tab, household items, and pest control services from Bowie that seemingly have nothing to do with youth sports and may have been purchased on the public’s dime. Bank records obtained by LL through a Freedom of Information Act request show dozens of unusual expenses on Team Thomas’ debit card from 2007 to 2009, including about $7,500 at golf courses around the country, more than $10,000 worth of golf equipment, and around $5,000 on hotels.

The records show that Team Thomas paid for regular expenses, including phone bills, a $362.33 satellite TV charge, and a subscription to Sports Illustrated. The bank records show charges to Best Buy, Home Depot, and local grocery stores, too.

Hooters, Country Clubs: Where Harry Thomas Jr.'s Team Thomas Money Went

By now we all know that Thomas, first elected in 2006, is being sued by Nathan for alleged misappropriation of city funds. Nathan says Thomas secretly took a $400,000 earmark for “youth baseball” and spent it mostly on himself, including the purchase of a $69,149.60 Audi SUV. Nathan says some of the earmark money went to Thomas’ for-profit company, HLT Development, and some went to Team Thomas. (The complaint says Team Thomas paid $1,074.40 toward the Audi. HLT Development paid $58,575.20, and Thomas got $9,000 for a trade-in on his Dodge Durango.)

Nathan’s lawsuit, which was filed last month, also says Team Thomas collected about $80,000 from corporate donors with promises of using the money to teach kids about swing sports. But Thomas used much of that money on himself, Nathan says. Team Thomas’ address is Thomas’ home address, and Nathan says the councilmember controlled the nonprofit’s finances, including the debit card used for the spending chronicled here.

Team Thomas was dissolved last year, but Thomas has said its mission of exposing urban youth to swing sports was his “life’s work.” In a fundraising letter to corporate donors, Thomas said Team Thomas’ goal was not just about sports, but to “reach our inner city population and broaden their horizons.” Some of the spending listed in the bank records certainly could have been used for those legitimate purposes, but it’s tough to know without more detailed records or help from Thomas, who declined to comment for this article.

The attorney general’s office offers a brief sampling of how Thomas allegedly misspent Team Thomas’ funds. The complaint lists only 14 items—including $1,073 spent at Pebble Beach Golf Course and $1,185 spent at another golf course in Las Vegas—that Nathan says had nothing to do with promoting youth sports to inner-city youth. But these 14 items, bank records show, are just the tip of the iceberg.

Hooters, Country Clubs: Where Harry Thomas Jr.'s Team Thomas Money Went

For instance, there’s the $170 Team Thomas charged at a perfume store the day after Christmas (known as “Boxing Day” to LL’s Canadian readers) in 2008. Or the $25.95 spent at Flagship Car Wash. Or the $75 bill at a 7-Eleven on New Year’s Eve. Or the $39.09 bill at Hunan Treasures. Or the $204 cash withdrawal at the Wynn Hotel in Las Vegas.

Then there’s the golf. Thomas is a big fan of the game and told LL last year that he tries to squeeze in nine holes most mornings. His enthusiasm shows in the bank records, which indicate that Team Thomas’ funds paid for multiple rounds in Florida, South Carolina, Las Vegas, California, and elsewhere.

On Nov. 26, 2007, shortly after Team Thomas held the first of two fundraisers with corporate donors, bank records show it spent $124.99 at a par-3 golf course and driving range in Myrtle Beach, S.C. A few weeks later, Team Thomas purchased a round in Little Rock, Ark., bank records show.

On Jan. 22, 2008, Team Thomas spent $179.14 at the well-known Sawgrass golf course in Jacksonville, Fla. A month later, the organization was racking up expenses in Florida again, this time at two courses, one near Cape Canaveral and one in Orlando. (It was around this time, according to the attorney general’s complaint, that Team Thomas began getting some of the earmarked money.)

In June 2008, the nonprofit spent $204.75 at Old Hickory Golf Club in Woodbridge and $132.03 at East Potomac Golf Course, bank records show. In February 2009, the money trail leads back to Orlando, where Team Thomas spent nearly $100 in one day at a local course.

Hooters, Country Clubs: Where Harry Thomas Jr.'s Team Thomas Money Went

In mid-April 2009, Team Thomas spent $314.82 at Sawgrass. Two weeks later, the organization was spending money on the other side of the country, in the San Francisco Bay area. It paid $1,072.99 at Pebble Beach, then later that week, spent $108.65 at a course in Oakland and $96.80 at Stonebrae Country Club, in nearby Hayward—on the same day.

The Team Thomas debit card covered much of the travel costs on these trips. In Myrtle Beach, there was a $278.56 tab at Jimmy Buffet’s Margaritaville restaurant. In Little Rock, records show a nearly $600 bill at the Peabody Hotel and a $160.27 bill at a steakhouse. LL counts nearly $1,000 spent at Florida hotels while Team Thomas paid for golf outings.

In a news conference last fall, Thomas said he regularly traveled on Team Thomas-related business, such as attending conferences related to youth sports. LL could only find record of one such conference in the debit card records, a $41.29 charge in February 2008 for the Cocoa Expo Sports Center in Cocoa, Fla. Thomas also used Team Thomas funds to pay costs associated with attending a shopping center conference in Las Vegas, one that’s regularly attended by District pols.

Bank records also show Team Thomas spent more than $10,000 on golf equipment, with many of the purchases clocking in at several hundred dollars at stores like the Washington Golf Center in Arlington, Golf Etc., and Adidas’ online golf shop. Buying sports equipment seems like a reasonable expense for a nonprofit that promotes youth sports. But Team Thomas also spent $102.10 at a golf store in Myrtle Beach, and bought a $180 “total game management system” on June 4, 2009, that uses GPS and provides “aerial course mapping” on players’ smart phones.

Hooters, Country Clubs: Where Harry Thomas Jr.'s Team Thomas Money Went

The nonprofit spent more than $16,000 on equipment for other sports besides golf, records show. Much of the money went to Dick’s Sporting Goods, and Stripe 3, a sporting goods store in College Park. Manager Felix Kim says the Stripe 3 purchases—like kids’ shoes and uniforms—were in keeping with Team Thomas’ mission: “They always seemed like legitimate purchases to me.”

But bank records also show a number of large purchases from an equipment supplier for football, a sport that’s never been on any Team Thomas promotional materials that LL’s seen.

Of course, it would be nice if Thomas would shed some light on these expenses. But he’s been short on details about Team Thomas’ finances since last fall, when his Republican opponent in the general election first started asking questions.

Instead, Thomas has made blanket statements that Team Thomas’ finances have been above board and has asked for patience while his attorney, Fred Cooke Jr., prepares his legal defense. Asked about specific charges in Team Thomas’ bank records, Thomas says he can’t speak while his case is in court. Cooke says he has nothing to say “whatsoever” about the charges. Nathan has said Thomas declined to explain Team Thomas’ finances before the lawsuit was filed.

That silence, though it might be standard etiquette on the golf course, is deafening. If Thomas had a simple and straightforward explanation for how his for-profit and nonprofit acquired and spent money, he surely would have given it by now. If there’s an easy answer for the Hooters bill, the satellite TV, the perfume store, and the many, many golf-related charges, why not give it?

Keeping quiet hasn’t helped Thomas any. Shortly after defiantly proclaiming that he would not step down as chairman of the D.C. Council’s coveted economic development committee, Thomas did just that, once his colleagues made clear they planned to force him out. He’s got no pull; his political power has dried up.

Meanwhile, the rest of the city waits—for Nathan’s lawsuit to move forward, to see who D.C. Council Chairman Kwame “Fully Loaded” Brown picks as Thomas’ replacement for the economic development committee, and to see if the U.S. Attorney’s Office, which launched its own investigation of Thomas, will bring criminal charges. The city is also waiting on Thomas—waiting for him to explain himself.

Photo by Darrow Montgomery; illustrations by Brooke Hatfield

Got a tip for LL? Send suggestions to lips@washingtoncitypaper.com.

  • @SamuelMoore

    SOB

  • Seren Snow

    This ruined my day. This behavior is not what the residents of Ward 5 saw in Harry Thomas, and its certainly not worthy of them.

  • Anon and On

    Yeah, I'd say he's done. Nice little scam you had working there, Harry Jr. Hope you enjoy your time in prison.

  • Harry Jackson

    He should pay the tax payers back, resign, apologize, and move on. Jail is a little harsh after his years of sincere public service to Ward 5 and the City. Gray should distance himself from Thomas despite their friendship and family connections. Also, Gray should distance himself from Alexander and Kwame Brown. Brown and Alexander should also resign. Michael Brown may also need to evaluate if he is in the service of others or private interests.

  • Sally

    Wow. Thomas is done. Resignation would be the honorable thing to do. But, like Leslie Johnson, Thomas can't afford to not be on the government payroll since he's gotten used to a lifestyle he needs subsidized by taxpayers.

  • Truth Hurts

    Thomas was trying to catch rats at hooters. To keep the kids safe.

  • http://www.teapartiers.blogspot.com Bruce Majors

    What, no designer dress or lobster dinner for Michelle Antoinette Obama?

  • Steve

    Next Question: WHO will run for Thomas' seat on the council? When is the date for the special election?
    signed: Ready to vote.

  • DJ Ren

    @Adrian, exactly. Thank You.

  • Bob

    Harry Thomas Jr. is starting to make ex-Mayor-for-Life Barry seem like an amateur.

    Mayor Gray and DC Council should pressure Thomas to resign, NOW! Even the PG Council has got enough guts to force out Leslie Johnson.

  • Southeast Ken

    If DC Ward 5 DC Councilmember Harry Thomas Jr. is found guilty, his ass should go to jail, along with Leslie and Jack Johnson. I am tired of lying, self serving, corrupt politicians regardless of race.

  • Good article

    This was a well researched, well written, interesting read.

  • Southeast Ken

    You can add Kwame Full Loaded Brown to the list. WTOP is reporting, DC Council Chairman Kwame Brown is under federal investigation.

  • Wendy Washington

    You folks who believe that Harry Thomas, Jr. should be defended on any front are delusional. As one of his constituents, I have always believed he was guilty of malfeasance and I have never voted for him. His performance as a CM does not even rise to the level of mediocre.

    Now that these charges have been filed, clear evidence of avarice has been provided. His actions are indefensible. Please do not even consider giving him a free pass. Some earlier comments allude to extra-marital activities. That may be merely innuendo, but if it is true, I will leave that to Harry’s wife to deal with. (That may already be in play – a moving van was seen outside the Thomas home recently.)

    The other allegations, if true, adversely affect us as his constituents, therefore, he needs to resign and give full time and attention to his defense. His access to taxpayer funds, along with the opportunity to misappropriate them, should cease immediately.

    Bottom line – he spent more time devising ways to line his pockets than he spent serving his constituents. He needs to go now. Harry needs to take a plea, too, he need not further embarrass himself, because if he proceeds to trial, it is unlikely a jury would find him not guilty—in the legal sense-–because he surely is not innocent.

  • One that cares

    Wendy, well said! I couldn't have said it any better.

  • Jayroc

    Ivan Cloyd Needs to hurry up and run this is sick

  • DB

    What's missing from all this (claiming Thomas swindled $400,000 from the city and $80,000 from corporate donors) is the kids served and the Team's assets. Show us the goods.

    Will the inner-city youth who learned swing sports from Harry Thomas durind this period and from these funds please stand up?

    Where is all the stuff purchased? With the kids? Okay. In Harry Thomas' garage with "property of Harry Thomas" stamped on it? C'Mon, Son!

  • LongTimeRez

    @Respected Citizens
    Thanks for the heads up on the Allen Lew/Turner Construction connection. Glad to see someone else paying attention. Just one more reason for Lew to join the ranks of those under investigation.

    In answer to a July 6th question from Dorothy Brizill, Mayor Gray admitted publicly that he hasn't read either the auditor's or inspector general's reports detailing the sordid, multi-million dollar giveaway ($9.7 million to Fenty friend Keith Lomax and $5.5 million to Turner Construction among other irregularities) of government/taxpayer funds from Lew's Office of Public Education Facilities Management(OPEFM) that have NO supporting documentation.

    Maybe Gray thinks a head-in-the-sand posture will help him when the US Attorney's office comes knocking for details.

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  • joe

    Stop Bitching and Start the Revolution !!

  • http://michael@electricadvisors.com Michael

    What's with DC politicians and $60,000 cars? Why do they need the status symbol of big expensive vehicles so much that they suck money meant for youth programs?

    Thomas deserves prison and the executive of the non-profit that took city grant funds and turned it around and fed it back to Thomas under the table should go to prison too.

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  • dumbness

    Even and idgit knows that you only pay with cash at Hooters. lol

    5:09pmtony Do you mean this LeroyThorpe(.com)?

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  • http://www.cureultrasound.com Steve

    interesting story, nice post.

  • FLIPPY BOLIPPY

    Crooks and kings..

  • ghetto rich

    That's what some call ghetto rich: living off other people's money.

  • DC Res

    How did Thomas get away with getting money from the city's Youth and Investment Trust all that time without any monitoring?

    If the CYITC allowed him to do that they should also be held accountable for mismanagement. And if CYITC looked the other way with Thomas probably did with Marion Barry and other CMs.

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