WASHINGTON — A former D.C. councilmember pleaded guilty Friday to embezzling more than $350,000 in government funds earmarked for youth sports and arts programs and admitted that he spent the money on a luxury SUV, travel to exclusive golf courses and clothing.
Harry Thomas Jr., who resigned hours after being charged Thursday, also admitted to filing false tax returns.
Thomas, who for months had maintained his innocence, did not directly address the accusations in federal court. Asked by a judge how he wished to plead, he replied: "Guilty as charged, your honor." He later read a statement outside the courthouse apologizing to his family and his constituents.
U.S. District Court Judge John Bates set sentencing for May 3. Sentencing guidelines call for between three and four years, but the decision is ultimately up to the judge.
Thomas, a 51-year-old Democrat and the son of a longtime D.C. councilmember, was elected to the 13-person council in 2006 to represent a majority-black, mixed-income section of the District of Columbia. He was re-elected in 2010.
The embezzlement allegations came to light last summer in a lawsuit against Thomas accusing him of diverting government funds for his own benefit. He agreed to pay back $300,000 in a settlement with the attorney general's lawsuit, although he missed a $50,000 payment due Tuesday.
U.S. Attorney Ron Machen called Thomas's crimes an "offensive abuse to the public trust."
"As a city and as a community, I hope that today's proceedings move us one step together to putting this dark chapter in D.C. politics behind us," he said.
The tax return charge accuses Thomas of failing to report $356,000 in income between 2007 and 2009.
A plea agreement filed by prosecutors said Thomas repeatedly lied about how the grant funds were being used. In May 2008, for instance, a staff member acting at Thomas's direction submitted a quarterly report saying grant money had been used to pay for a baseball academy and a sports camp for children.
The report said the money covered the cost of equipment; instructors, cart rentals, club house access and other expenses. Prosecutors said little, if any, of those funds went toward those costs.
Thomas was also ordered to forfeit an SUV and a motorcycle that were seized last month by federal agents who raided his northeast Washington home.
Thomas was charged after days of plea negotiations between prosecutors and his defense lawyers. Mayor Vincent Gray and several council colleagues called for his resignation throughout the day and, on Thursday night, he issued a statement saying he was stepping down immediately. He apologized to his constituents and family for "very serious mistakes" and lapses in judgment.
According to the district attorney general's lawsuit, Thomas steered the money into a nonprofit that provides golf programs for youth. That group then paid most of the grant money to an organization under Thomas' control, known as Team Thomas, the lawsuit said.
Team Thomas was supposed to use the funds for youth sports programs. But instead, Thomas spent the money on himself, the lawsuit said.
A special election is expected within months to fill his seat.