ByÂ Jim McElhatton-The Washington Times
WhenÂ MedStar Health executives received an email from the office ofD.C. Council memberÂ Harry Thomas Jr. seeking a charitable donation in late 2007, officials said they had little reason to question whetherÂ Mr. Thomasâ€˜ charity was real.
Indeed, the solicitation sent on behalf of â€œTeam Thomasâ€ included a so-called 501(c)3 tax-identification number, along with a detailed statement about the groupâ€™s work â€œoffering youth the opportunity to participate, enjoy and excel.â€
â€œThere was even a flier for a holiday party for children,â€ saidÂ Jean Hitchcock, corporate vice president for public affairs atÂ MedStar, which runs WashingtonÂ Hospital Center in Mr.Â Thomas’ council ward. â€œTo us, this was about helping underprivileged children in the area, so we decided to make the contribution.â€
But more than three years after making the $5,000 donation, officials at the health care organization are concerned they might have been hoodwinked.
Theyâ€™re not alone in having once supported Team Thomas. Dozens of organizations, including several with legislative issues before theÂ D.C. government, contributed more than $80,000 combined to Team Thomas over the years. None of the donations was disclosed to the public.
Despite a reference to tax-exempt status in the fundraising solicitation obtained by The Washington Times, Team Thomas was never registered as a tax-exempt organization with theÂ Internal Revenue Service, according to a fraud lawsuit filed this week againstÂ Mr. Thomas by the cityâ€™s attorney general.
Mr. Thomas has denied any wrongdoing.
The civil complaint seeks nearly $1 million and accusesÂ Mr. Thomas of using Team Thomas as a personal and political slush fund and misusing private donations and public grant money, including nearly $60,000 that went toward the purchase of a 2008 Audi sport utility vehicle. It also says more than $300,000 in funds from aÂ D.C. Council earmark were funneled to Team Thomas and HTL Development, also controlled byÂ Mr. Thomasand based at his house.
Among other Team Thomas expenditures that the attorney generalâ€™s office uncovered were nearly $1,185 spent at theÂ Bali Hai Golf Club in Las Vegas, $1,073 for golf at Pebble Beach, Calif., and $1,602 at a Marriott Resort and Spa.
â€œWeâ€™re conducting an investigation on our end to make sure that the funds were donated appropriately and that the funds were used appropriately,â€ saidÂ Jacqueline Bowens, spokeswoman for Childrenâ€™s National Medical Center, which also donated $2,500 to Team Thomas in 2008.
Other donors werenâ€™t as eager to talk. The Washington Convention and Tourism Corp., which gave $1,000, told The Washington Times to file a Freedom of Information Act request for information about its donation to Team Thomas.
Mr. Thomas has vowed to fight the lawsuit and has sharply denied any wrongdoing. The U.S. attorneyâ€™s office also is investigating.Â Mr. Thomasâ€˜ attorney,Â Frederick D. Cooke Jr., said on Tuesday that the fundraising solicitation that noted a 501(c)3, or tax exempt, number may have been at a time when Team Thomas had an application pending seeking that status from theÂ IRS.
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