News & Politics

Former DC Council Staffer Charged With Using Youth Drug Prevention Funds for Inaugural Ball

Neil Rodgers, an aide to disgraced former DC Council member Harry Thomas Jr., allegedly took more than $100,000 to pay for a 2009 inaugural party.

Two years after former DC Council member Harry Thomas, Jr. pleaded guilty to federal charges that he embezzled used more than $350,000 in city funds to lavish on himself, federal prosecutors dropped one final indictment on his inner circle. Neil Rodgers, who served as director of a Council committee that Thomas chaired, is being charged with diverting $110,000 from youth drug prevention programs to a 2009 inaugural ball. 

According to the indictment, Rodgers allegedly used his position as staff director of the Council’s parks committee in early 2009 to steer more than $100,000 from a Department of Parks and Recreation program to the DC Young Democrats, who were on the hook for expenses associated with the “51st State” ball, a memorably disorganized affair at the John A. Wilson Building the night President Obama took office. The party featured meager catering and no coat check, but did close with a set by Chuck Brown, the late Godfather of Go-Go.

The indictment alleges that Rodgers first attempted to move the money from DPR to the Children’s Youth Investment Trust Corporation, the public-private partnership that Thomas eventually pleaded guilty to fleecing for his own use. When the trust could not make the transfer, Rodgers allegedly went to a nonprofit group called Youth Tech, which took the DPR money and then funneled it to the Young Democrats.

Ayawna Webster, who was the head of the Young Democrats at the time, pleaded guilty last July for falsifying a tax document in connection with the ball scheme. Federal prosecutors have also collected guilty pleas from Youth Tech head Danita Doleman and Millicent West, DC’s former homeland security chief.

Thomas was sentenced to 38 months in May 2012 for spending money earmarked for youth sports programs on luxury cars, expensive clothes, and vacations for himself. He is currently serving out his sentence at a federal prison camp in Montgomery, Alabama, but paid a one-day trip to the District last November. US attorney Ron Machen’s office did not say if that visit had anything to do with the indictment against Rodgers.

“This prosecution is the final step in our investigation of the criminal activities of former DC Council member Harry Thomas, Jr., which has resulted in six guilty pleas,” Machen said in a press release. “The results of this investigation are a reminder of the grave consequences for government employees and others who knowingly facilitate the illegal actions of corrupt elected officials.”

A court date for Rodgers has not yet been scheduled.

Rodgers, Neil – Indictment – January 2014

Staff Writer

Benjamin Freed joined Washingtonian in August 2013 and covers politics, business, and media. He was previously the editor of DCist and has also written for Washington City Paper, the New York Times, the New Republic, Slate, and BuzzFeed. He lives in Adams Morgan.