Former District Of Columbia Government Official Indicted On Charges Involving $110,000 Grant That Funded An Inaugural BallFormer 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, was indicted today on federal charges stemming from his role in channeling $110,000 in youth and drug prevention grant funds used to pay for an inaugural ball.
The indictment, returned by a grand jury in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, was announced by U.S. Attorney Ronald C. Machen Jr., Valerie Parlave, 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.
Rodgers, 61, 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. He was indicted on three felony charges, including one count each of theft concerning programs receiving federal funds, wire fraud, and first-degree fraud. Rodgers faces a maximum sentence of 20 years of incarceration if convicted of all charges.
Six others have pled guilty to charges in the overall investigation into 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 is now serving a 38-month prison sentence.
The others who have pled guilty include James Garvin and Marshall D. Banks, leaders of one of the non-profits used in the scheme. Both men, from the Langston in the 21st Century Foundation, pled guilty to misprision of a felony, a charge holding them accountable for failing to report and concealing the misappropriation of $392,000 in government grants. Additionally, Danita C. Doleman, the president of Youth Technology Institute, pled guilty to filing a false tax return in connection with her assistance in funneling public money to pay for the 51st State Inaugural Ball. Millicent D. West, the former director and chief executive officer of a non-profit organization that promotes youth opportunities, pled guilty to a criminal tax charge for her role in channeling the youth grant funds to pay for the ball. Finally, Ayawna Webster, an aide who also worked as a chief of staff for Thomas, pled guilty to attempting to interfere with the administration of the Internal Revenue Service laws.
Garvin and Banks were sentenced to three years of supervised probation, 80 hours of community service, and ordered to pay full restitution. Doleman, West, and Webster are awaiting sentencing.
“Today’s indictment charges Neil Rodgers with stealing tax dollars meant for children to throw a $100,000 black-tie party for adults,” said U.S. Attorney Machen. “This prosecution is the final step in our investigation of the criminal activities of former D.C. Council member Harry Thomas, Jr., which has resulted in six guilty pleas. The results of this investigation are a reminder of the grave consequences for government employees and others who knowingly facilitate the illegal actions of corrupt elected officials.”
“Today’s indictment is an example of what happens when a public servant becomes complicit in corrupt behavior rather than standing up to it,” said Assistant Director in Charge Parlave. “Knowingly submitting false and misleading documents to support a larger scheme at the direction of a public official is illegal. The FBI will investigate allegations of corruption at all levels and hold those who allow it accountable for their actions.”
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.
Thomas, who took office in January 2007 as the Ward 5 representative, served during his first term as Chair of the Council’s Committee on Libraries, Parks, Recreation and Planning, which involved oversight responsibility for the D.C. Department of Parks and Recreation. In that role, he worked with a non-profit public-private partnership that provided resources and developed programs to benefit children and youth in the District of Columbia.
The partnership was primarily funded by the District of Columbia government through funds designated by the Mayor and Council for particular youth-related purposes. The partnership provided grants to organizations for programs tailored for children and youth.
The charges against Rodgers deal with his role in securing funds for the 51st State Inaugural Ball, held on Jan. 20, 2009 in the Wilson Building. Thomas was closely involved in the planning the event. In addition to her work duties, Ayawna Webster was the president of a local chapter of a political organization. She and her political organization served as the host of the ball, and she then organized the event, at Thomas’s direction.
Ticket sales and other contributions failed to raise enough money to pay the expenses associated with the 51st State Inaugural Ball. Following the ball, Webster’s political organization owed vendors approximately $100,000. According to the indictment, Rodgers participated in a scheme to channel money through a grant from the public-private partnership, meant for youths, to Webster’s political organization so that these expenses would be paid.
The plan hit an obstacle, however, when questions were raised about the legality of granting money to a political organization. The grant recipient was changed to the Youth Technology Institute, another non-profit organization. Even though Rodgers knew that this organization had no involvement with the ball, according to the indictment, he requested $120,000 in grant funds on its behalf. On Feb. 5, 2009, based on the false grant paperwork submitted by Rodgers, the public-private partnership issued a check in the amount of $110,000 to the Youth Technology Institute, the indictment alleges.
In truth, after the grant was issued, the Youth Technology Institute immediately forwarded nearly the entire amount to Webster’s political organization, which paid expenses from the 51st State Inaugural Ball.
An indictment is merely a formal charge that a defendant has committed a violation of criminal laws and every defendant is presumed innocent until, and unless, proven guilty.
This case is being investigated by the FBI’s Washington Field Office and IRS-CI. It is being prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorneys James E. Smith and David Johnson, of the Fraud and Public Corruption Section of the U.S. Attorney’s Office.14-016