Graham Wants to Know How Thomas Used Trust to Steal from City; Hearing Shows That Fast-Track Grants Alarmed Workers

Article excerpt

Byline: Tom Howell Jr., THE WASHINGTON TIMES

Employees at a nonprofit organization that former council member Harry Thomas Jr. used as a conduit to steal from the city raised concerns about fast-tracked grants and the risk of becoming a check-on-demand kind of place, according to testimony at a D.C. Council oversight hearing on Monday.

Council member Jim Graham, Ward 1 Democrat, made it clear he does not want to terminate the Children and Youth Investment Trust Corp. - citing its assistance to youth programs since 1999 - but emails about Thomas' projects raised questions as to how the disgraced legislator was able to pocket $350,000 in earmarked funds that passed through the public-private partnership.

Something happened here, and we're going to pursue what that is, Mr. Graham said at the hearing before his Committee on Human Services.

Mr. Graham questioned Ellen London, president and CEO of the trust, on Monday about warning signs in 2007-09 under her predecessors, potential political pressures that led to faulty oversight of grants funds, and the reforms designed to prevent any more problems.

Ms. London took the reins at the trust in November 2009, yet many of Mr. Graham's most pressing questions concerned an earlier period.

Her immediate predecessor, Millicent West, recently stepped down as director of the city's Department of Homeland Security and Emergency Management to avoid the distraction caused by events during her tenure at the trust. She did not attend the hearing, but her name came up numerous times.

Ms. London has been employed by the trust since 2000 and was part of an email loop that showed a willingness to look the other way when Thomas' staff asked for certain grants to be issued, despite inadequate documentation.

You must have an impression of this period of time, Mr. Graham said toMs. London, who was a communications and government relations officer for the trust at the time. I wouldn't put you on the spot unless you were involved in virtually every email concerning this matter.

Mr. Graham noted that staff members raised their eyebrows at the lack of documentation and program descriptions related to an earmarked grant that Thomas' staff directed to the Langston Century 21 Foundation, a golf-related nonprofit that Thomas used to siphon off the lion's share of the stolen funds.

Again, it's the rest of the staff saying there's something wrong here, Mr. Graham said.

Ms. London said she could not recall conversations, outside of email, in which they questioned lenient practices under Ms. …