Former D.C. Government Official Sentenced for Fraud Involving $110,000 Grant That Funded a 2009 Inaugural Ball
WASHINGTON—Neil S. Rodgers, a former District of Columbia government official, was sentenced today to a period of incarceration and ordered to pay full restitution on a charge stemming from his role in channeling $110,000 in youth and drug prevention grant funds that were used to pay for an inaugural ball.
The sentencing was announced by Acting U.S. Attorney Vincent H. Cohen, Jr., Andrew G. McCabe, Assistant Director in Charge of the FBI’s Washington Field Office, and Thomas Jankowski, Special Agent in Charge of the Washington Field Office of the Internal Revenue Service-Criminal Investigation.
Rodgers was found guilty in March 2015, by a jury in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, of first-degree fraud. The Honorable Senior Judge John D. Bates sentenced Rodgers to 36 days of incarceration, to be served over 12 weekends. He also ordered him to pay $110,000 in restitution. Rodgers also will be placed on two years of probation.
Rodgers, 62, of Washington, D.C., served 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.
Six others have pled guilty to charges in the overall investigation, which focused on activities involving former Council Member Harry L. Thomas, Jr. Thomas pled guilty in January 2012 to charges stemming from a scheme in which he used more than $350,000 in taxpayers’ money that was earmarked for the arts, youth recreation, and summer programs for his own personal benefit, including paying for vehicles, clothing, and trips. He resigned in January 2012 as a condition of his plea agreement and later served a 38-month prison sentence.
According to the government’s evidence, Rodgers aided Thomas in 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 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 directed one of his staffers to plan the ball to celebrate the inauguration of President Obama. 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.
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.
The Children at Risk and Drug Prevention Fund consisted of money that had accumulated at the D.C. Department of Parks and Recreation after years of tax donations by D.C. taxpayers. In 2008, the D.C. Council passed legislation that gave responsibility for distributing the money to the community to the public-private partnership organization. At the time of the ball, the money had not yet transferred to the public-private partnership. Rodgers used his influence to finalize the transfer of the money so that it could be used to pay for the inaugural ball.
Rodgers then submitted false paperwork to the public-private partnership that described the inaugural ball as a youth event. Rodgers provided multiple copies of budgets and supporting narratives that misled the public-private partnership and resulted in the issuance of the Children at Risk and Drug Prevention Fund money to pay for the inaugural ball.
In announcing the sentence, Acting U.S. Attorney Cohen, Assistant Director in Charge McCabe, and Special Agent in Charge Jankowski commended the work of those who investigated the case from the FBI’s Washington Field Office and IRS-CI. They also acknowledged the work of those who worked on the case from the U.S. Attorney’s Office, including Paralegal Specialists Tasha Harris, Heather Sales, Jessica Mundi, and Ida Anbarian; Litigation Technology Specialists Joshua Ellen and Ron Royal; and former Assistant U.S. Attorneys Jonathan Haray, Bridget Fitzpatrick, James Smith, and David Johnson. Finally, they expressed appreciation for the work of Assistant U.S. Attorneys Matthew Graves and Michelle Zamarin, who prosecuted the case.