Thursday, September 28, 2023
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A Literal Ball on Taxpayers’ Dime, Feds Say

(CN) - A former District of Columbia official helped channel $110,000 in federal grant money earmarked for children to a political organization to pay for an inaugural ball, according to a grand jury indictment.

"Today's indictment charges Neil Rodgers with stealing tax dollars meant for children to throw a black-tie party for adults," U.S. Attorney Ronald Machen Jr. said Friday.

Rodgers, 61, was indicted on three felony charges stemming from a criminal investigation of former D.C. Councilman Harry Thomas Jr., the U.S. Attorney's Office said.

Prosecutors say Rodgers helped channel grant money to the host of the 51st State Inaugural Ball on Jan. 20, 2009: a political organization whose local chapter president was former Thomas aide Ayawna Webster. The organization ran up about $100,000 in debt to vendors after the ball.

To avoid any legal issues with granting money to a political organization, Rodgers changed the grant recipient to Youth Technology Institute, a nonprofit not involved with the ball, according to the indictment. The institute was issued a grant check for $110,000 on Feb. 5, 2009, nearly all of which it "immediately forwarded" to Webster's political organization to pay for the ball, prosecutors say.

Rodgers has been charged with theft concerning programs receiving federal funds, wire fraud and first-degree fraud. He faces up to 20 years in prison.

Thomas pleaded guilty in January 2012 to using more than $350,000 in taxpayer money that had been earmarked for the arts, youth recreation and summer programs to buy cars, clothing and trips.

He resigned two years ago and is now serving 12 years and two months in prison.

Five others have pleaded guilty to various charges as a result of the Thomas investigation, according to prosecutors: James Garvin and Marshall D. Banks, leaders of the nonprofit Langston in the 21st Century Foundation, pleaded guilty to helping conceal the misappropriation of $392,000 in government grants; Youth Technology Institute President Danita C. Doleman pleaded guilty to filing a false tax return; Millicent D. West, former director of a youth nonprofit, pleaded guilty to a criminal tax charge; and Webster pleaded guilty to trying to interfere with the administration of Internal Revenue Service laws.

Garvin and Banks were sentenced to three years of supervised probation and 80 hours of community service, and were ordered to pay full restitution.

The remaining three are awaiting sentencing.

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