Former D.C. Official |Sentenced for Fraud

     (CN) – A former D.C. government official was sentenced to two years probation, 12 weekends in jail and ordered to repay $110,000 in young drug prevention grant funds he used to pay for a 2009 inaugural ball.
     Neil Rodgers, a staff member of former D.C. Council Member Harry Thomas Jr., was found guilty of fraud in March. His former boss was sentenced to 38 months in prison and three year’s probation on May 3, 2012, for stealing more than $350,000 in city funds and spending the money on cars, clothing and vacations.
     Thomas resigned in January 2012 as part of a pleas agreement with prosecutors.
     Before his sentencing, Thomas blamed his actions on a “sense of entitlement.”
     In handing down his sentence, U.S. District Judge John D. Bates called them something else.
     “Betrayal,” he said.
     Standing before the same judge Tuesday morning, Rodgers continued to insist that he didn’t know that what he did was wrong. He did, however, appear well-aware of the consequences.
     “I have witnessed what I hoped would be a stellar career disintegrate into a legacy of distrust and thievery,” he told Judge Bates.
     Rodgers 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.
     Prosecutors said Rodgers aided Thomas is illegally securing funds for the 51st State Inaugural Ball, held on Jan. 20, 2009, at the Wilson Building.
     “Neil Rodgers worked with former D.C. Council member Harry Thomas to perpetrate a fraud that diverted money from at-risk children to throw a black-tie ball for adults,” said Acting U.S. Attorney Vincent Cohen.
     “His conviction at trial brings to seven the number of people convicted as part of Harry Thomas’s chronic abuse of the public trust. Neil Rodgers refused to acknowledge that there was anything wrong in the cavalier way that he and Harry Thomas stole from a program for children. He now will be required to pay back every penny he stole from the children of the District. Those children, who were most harmed by this, deserve better from our public officials,” Cohen.
     Thomas directed one of his staffers to plan the ball to celebrate the inauguration of President Obama., prosecutors said. 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, prosecutors said.
     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.
     Rodgers then submitted false paperwork to the public-private partnership that described the inaugural ball as a youth event, prosecutors said.
     Rodgers sentence was less than prosecutors had wanted. Their memorandum on sentencing has asked that he be sentenced to one year and a day in jail, plus three year’s probation and restitution of the $110,000.
     Attorneys for Rodgers asked that their client only be sentenced to probation.
     “Public officials need to know that there are real consequences, including incarceration,” Judge Bates said as he handed down Rodgers sentence today.

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