Former exec: Pressure from city leaders aided misuse of funds

April 28, 2012
Liz Farmer
Washington Examiner Staff Writer

The organization that a former D.C. councilman used to steal money from kids became inundated by pet projects of the former administration and council members, a former board member told The Washington Examiner.

The result was that private funding for the city-run Children and Youth Investment Trust Corp. nearly dried up as foundations' faith in the organization's political independence plummeted, said former board chair John Hill. The trust typically hands out between $14 million and $19 million annually.

When the trust was founded in 1999, private funders were often able to stipulate where their money went and work with local nonprofits to maximize results, Hill said.

"And all of that changed when the administration changed [to former Mayor Adrian Fenty], and there was a feeling that there should be greater control over where the money went within the government," Hill said. "That's certainly what [former] Councilmember Harry Thomas exploited and also what led to concerns by outside funders."

According to prosecutors, Thomas earmarked $400,000 in 2008 from the corporation to Langston 21st Century Foundation for youth baseball summer camps. More than $353,000 of that funding was funneled back to Thomas, who used it for vacations, new cars and other personal items.

Thomas and Langston 21 officials pleaded guilty to the theft in January.

Hill describes 2008 as a stressful time at the trust. By then, more than half of the organization's city grant funds were earmarked by council members, and the trust was charged with making sure those grant recipients actually had a plan of action for the money. Hill, who has been serving on an expired term, was replaced on the board in June 2008.

"What was happening is organizations were coming to us and saying, 'Why should we go through this stringent process when others can just go to their council member and bypass this whole thing and get even more money by having a direct allocation to them?' " Hill said.

In Thomas' case, a D.C. Council committee report has found he likely had support within the corporation. The committee, chaired by Ward 1 Councilman Jim Graham, voted to give Graham subpoena power to continue its investigation into the organization.

Federal prosecutors have also said they are investigating the trust.