“Somehow . . . I lost my moral compass,” Thomas told Bates, explaining his actions for the first time. “I went astray and lost my way.”
Bates gave Thomas some credit for a record of community service to young people but told him that he had “plainly and significantly abused” his position of public trust.
“You stole from the people who elected you, and you stole from the youth who could have benefited from those funds,” the judge said.
Thursday’s sentencing marked the end of an 18-month saga that started with questions from a political opponent and grew into the most serious graft allegations ever leveled against an elected District official. The lengthy sentence also represents a major victory for federal prosecutors, who remain engaged in investigations of other city officials, including Mayor Vincent C. Gray (D) and council Chairman Kwame R. Brown (D).
The 38-month sentence was less than the 46 months that U.S. Attorney Ronald C. Machen Jr. had requested, but it was significantly more than the 18 months that Thomas’s attorneys had argued for.
“A case like today’s, a sentence like today’s, does send a powerful message that you’re going to be held accountable,” Machen said in an interview. “That should send a message to others that we’re not going to tolerate a culture of self-dealing or self-enrichment in the District.”
Two men who aided Thomas also have pleaded guilty to felonies. Machen said his office continues to probe the theft, but he declined to offer details.
Thomas, 51, pleaded guilty in January to a pair of felonies — theft of funds concerning federal programs and filing a false tax return — a day after resigning the Ward 5 council seat that he held for five years and that his father had held for 12 years.
In their sordidness, the crimes approached the realm of cartoon villainy. Thomas steered taxpayer money intended for children through various nonprofit groups into his own pocket, prosecutors said, using the funds for expensive trips, a $69,000 luxury sport-utility vehicle and pairs of “exotic shoes,” among other items.
Thomas and his attorneys went to great lengths to detail a long record of community service that predated his service on the council. Ninety-two letters of support were included in a filing to the judge, and attorneys called three witnesses Thursday to help make the case for leniency.
One of Thomas’s nephews, Stephen Kyle Truhart, and Paris Inman, a Little League organizer in the District, testified that Thomas was a diligent coach and father who spent thousands of hours mentoring and coaching city youths.