Former D.C. Government Official Found Guilty of Fraud Involving $110,000 Grant That Funded a 2009 Inaugural Ball
Former Council Member Harry L. Thomas Jr. and Five Others Earlier Pled Guilty to Charges
WASHINGTON – Neil S. Rodgers, a former District of Columbia government official, has been found guilty by a jury of first-degree fraud stemming from his role in channeling $110,000 in youth and drug prevention grant funds that were used to pay for an inaugural ball.
The guilty verdict, which was returned March 16, 2015, by a jury in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, was announced by U.S. Attorney Ronald C. Machen Jr., Andrew G. McCabe, Assistant Director in Charge of the FBI’s Washington Field Office, and Thomas J. Kelly, Special Agent in Charge of the Washington Field Office of the Internal Revenue Service-Criminal Investigation.
The jury later acquitted Rodgers of one federal count of wire fraud and was unable to reach a verdict on one federal count of theft concerning programs receiving federal funds. At a hearing today, the Honorable Senior Judge John D. Bates denied a defense motion to dismiss the guilty verdict and scheduled sentencing for June 16, 2015. The charge of first-degree fraud, a District of Columbia offense, carries a statutory maximum of 10 years in prison.
Rodgers, 62, of Washington, D.C., served as the Committee Director of the Council of the District of Columbia’s Committee on Libraries, Parks, Recreation and Planning. Before becoming Committee Director, Rodgers worked for many years at the District of Columbia Department of Parks and Recreation, serving as Chief of Staff and Acting Director.
Six others have pled guilty to charges in the overall investigation, which focused on activities involving former Council Member Harry L. Thomas, Jr. Thomas pled guilty in January 2012 to charges stemming from a scheme in which he used more than $350,000 in taxpayers’ money that was earmarked for the arts, youth recreation, and summer programs for his own personal benefit, including paying for vehicles, clothing, and trips. He resigned in January 2012 as a condition of his plea agreement and recently completed serving a 38-month prison sentence.
According to the government’s evidence, Rodgers aided Thomas in illegally securing funds for the 51st State Inaugural Ball, held on Jan. 20, 2009, at the Wilson Building.
“Neil Rodgers was convicted of fraud by a D.C. jury for helping Harry Thomas steal money from children to throw a black-tie party in the Wilson Building,” said U.S. Attorney Machen. “This guilty verdict makes Neil Rodgers the seventh and final person to be convicted in connection with Harry Thomas’s crimes. This conviction makes clear that the citizens of the District of Columbia will not tolerate government employees who break the law to facilitate the corrupt dealings of elected officials. Public servants owe it to the taxpayers to stand up against crooked politicians, not to enable them.”
“Public funds intended to improve the lives of District youth were illegally steered to host a party for the 2009 Presidential inauguration,” said Assistant Director in Charge McCabe. “Government officials are properly held to a higher standard of conduct and by undermining these laws they violated the integrity of our government. This verdict is a reminder to government officials that corruption will not be tolerated in our community – no matter the level, the amount, or the individuals involved.”
Thomas directed one of his staffers to plan the ball to celebrate the inauguration of President Obama. The 51st State Inaugural Ball was sponsored by Thomas, other council members and a local chapter of a political organization which was run by Thomas’s staffer who planned the ball. Ticket sales and other contributions failed to raise enough money to pay the expenses associated with the ball. Following the ball, the vendors who provided services for the ball were owed approximately $100,000.
Thomas asked Rodgers to help find funding for the money owed to the vendors. Thomas and Rodgers participated in a scheme to take money that was originally donated by D.C. taxpayers to the Children at Risk and Drug Prevention Fund to pay for the inaugural ball.
After the ball was over, Thomas and Rodgers contacted the president of a public-private partnership that provided grants to children and youth of the district. Thomas and Rodgers falsely stated that the ball had been a youth event. The private-public partnership organization agreed to provide funding for the ball based on these representations. It also agreed to use the Children at Risk and Drug Prevention Fund money to pay for the ball.
The Children at Risk and Drug Prevention Fund consisted of money that had accumulated at the D.C. Department of Parks and Recreation after years of tax donations by D.C. taxpayers. In 2008, the D.C. Council passed legislation that gave responsibility for distributing the money to the community to the public-private partnership organization. At the time of the ball, the money had not yet transferred to the public-private partnership. Rodgers used his influence to finalize the transfer of the money so that it could be used to pay for the inaugural ball.
Rodgers then submitted false paperwork to the public-private partnership that described the inaugural ball as a youth event. Rodgers provided multiple copies of budgets and supporting narratives that misled the public-private partnership and resulted in the issuance of the Children at Risk and Drug Prevention Fund money to pay for the inaugural ball.
In announcing the verdict, U.S. Attorney Machen, Assistant Director in Charge McCabe, and Special Agent in Charge Kelly commended the work of those who investigated the case from the FBI’s Washington Field Office and IRS-CI. They also acknowledged the work of those who worked on the case from the U.S. Attorney’s Office, including Paralegal Specialists Tasha Harris, Heather Sales, Jessica Mundi, and Ida Anbarian; Litigation Technology Specialists Joshua Ellen and Ron Royal; and former Assistant U.S. Attorneys Jonathan Haray, Bridget Fitzpatrick, James Smith, and David Johnson. Finally, they expressed appreciation for the work of Assistant U.S. Attorneys Matthew Graves and Michelle Zamarin, who prosecuted the case.