Opinion

DC official stole from POOR KIDS to pay for Obama’s inaugural ball; sentence is a joke

A former aide to a disgraced Washington D.C. councilman was sentenced Tuesday for his role in illegally diverting $110,000 from a private-public program for poor kids to cover the costs of President Obama’s inaugural ball in 2009.

Neil S. Rodgers was sentenced to 36 days (served on weekends) and two years of probation for his role in helping former council member Harry Thomas Jr. misappropriate over $375,000 taxpayer dollars used for arts and youth programs, according to a news release from the Department of Justice.

Rodgers will also have to make $110,000 restitution to the program. So he’ll have to spend his weekends in jail for a few months, drop by a probation office once in a while, and repay what he stole.

Shoplifters can be treated tougher than that.

Still, the U.S. attorney’s office claimed victory.

“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,” acting U.S. Attorney Vincent Cohen said in the release.

“His conviction at trial brings to seven the number of people convicted as part of Harry Thomas’s chronic abuse of the public trust.”

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Thomas, who was sentenced to more than three years in prison in 2012, had originally planned on seeking private donations to help cover the cost of Obama’s inaugural ball in 2009, but was unable to generate enough financial support for the cause.

That’s when Thomas and Rodgers began creating “multiple copies of budgets” and cover stories in a scheme to divert money from the D.C. Children at Risk and Drug Prevention Fund. The organization was fooled into paying bills related to the inaugural ball through a series of fake invoices and false expense reports.

At the time of Obama’s inauguration, the pair had pushed hard to have the ball hosted at a public D.C. government building – despite concerns over the exorbitant cost – saying the city should use “the people’s building for a people’s purpose.”

Most people didn’t realize at the time that poor kids would be paying the bill for the “people’s purpose” of throwing a black-tie party for Obama.

Michael Schaus

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