Neil S. Rodgers, a former D.C. government official, was sentenced Tuesday for his role in the misappropriation of $110,000 earmarked for D.C.'s Children at Risk and Drug Prevention Fund to cover a deficit for the 51st State Inaugural Ball for President Obama's inauguration in 2009. Rodgers, found guilty of fraud in March, was sentenced to 36 days (served on weekends) plus two years of probation. Rodgers must also repay the entire $110,000 as restitution for his crime.
In 2008, as arrangements were underway for inauguration celebrations, the Washington City Paper reported on former council member Harry Thomas Jr.'s early plans for the 51st State Inaugural Ball, noting that "there would have to be a plan to raise funds for the event, and security and cleanup concerns would also have to dealt with. Thomas says all that will be taken care of; he says he plans to seek private donations to cover the difference between the event's cost and the revenues raised by the $51 ticket cost." Donations, however, came up short. Justice Department officials described Rodgers's role in the misappropriation scheme in a Tuesday press release:
“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 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.”
“Today, Mr. Rodgers accepted his penalty for illegally steering money meant to fund District of Columbia government programs to pay for a Presidential inauguration party,” said Assistant Director in Charge McCabe. “The FBI and our partners at the IRS have worked countless hours to investigate the trail of money that was intended to help youth in the District and how the corrupt actions of a public servant resulted in a loss to the community he served.”
Thomas and Rodgers mischaracterized the ball as a youth event to convince the private-public partnership organization in charge of funding the ball to cover the approximate $100,000 shortfall. That organization used the Children at Risk and Drug Prevention Fund to pay off creditors. The conspirators used "multiple copies of budgets and supporting narratives" to fool the organization into approving use of that fund to pay the remaining bills.
Six others have already pled guilty in cases involving the activities of Thomas, who himself pled guilty to misuse of $375,000 in taxpayer dollars intended for arts and youth programs. Thomas was forced to resign his seat and served 38-months in prison.
According to the Washington City Paper, Thomas said of the ball's location at the John A. Wilson Building, the D.C. government seat, "Why not use the people's building for a people's purpose?" But in the end, both Thomas and Rodgers used the people's money for their own purposes, a decision that ultimately landed both men in jail.