“To my knowledge, Toulu Thao is the only person in HUD history who’s ever been prosecuted for allegations that this form was filled out wrong — and in fact he filled it out perfectly, “
Jeff Hammerschmidt –
FRESNO, CA (July 13, 2009) – Dr. Toulu Thao was arrested at gunpoint by five U.S. Marshalls at his office, the Fresno Office of the Department of Housing and Urban Development. He was the first person ever to be prosecuted for allegedly filling out a government ethics form incorrectly. The government conducted a five-year investigation that resulted in nearly nine thousand (9000) pages of reports and documents. Fresno criminal defense attorney Jeffrey Hammerschmidt was able to establish that each of the charges against Dr. Thao were false, and that Dr. Thao actually filled out the ethics form perfectly.
On July 8, 2009, all charges against Dr. Thao were dismissed. Dr. Thao returned to work at HUD on July 13, 2009. He has filed a federal lawsuit against HUD in an effort to recover three and a half years of back pay and other damages.
Please see the below Fresno Bee article detailing Dr. Thao’s case, and his on-going fight to be made whole after being vindicated by the aggressive defense provided by Jeffrey Hammerschmidt:
John Ellis, The Fresno Bee
Thao battled agency for 2 years over allegations.
A Fresno man who spent more than two years battling allegations that he made false statements to his employer — the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development — is now suing the agency in federal court.
The lawsuit comes more than five years after Toulu Thao was indicted by a federal grand jury in Fresno and arrested by armed federal agents. He was charged with four felony counts for making false statements on economic disclosure forms that were required for his HUD employment.
In July 2008, federal prosecutors agreed to drop all charges against Thao.
“To my knowledge, Toulu Thao is the only person in HUD history who’s ever been prosecuted for allegations that this form was filled out wrong — and in fact he filled it out perfectly, ” said Jeff Hammerschmidt, who was Thao’s criminal defense attorney.
Thao’s lawsuit names HUD Secretary Shaun Donovan as well as a host of former HUD officials, including his then-HUD supervisor, Ann Sudduth.
Gene Gibson, a HUD spokeswoman based in San Francisco, said the agency couldn’t comment on pending litigation. Sudduth could not be reached for comment.
Thao, 53, was hired by HUD in 1998. At the time, he had helped form or been active in various organizations that served the Hmong immigrant community, including the Hmong Economic Development Pilot Project, a welfare-to-work project, and the Hmong American Community, which worked on economic development.
Prosecutors said Thao failed to report $5,200 in income he received from the Hmong Economic Development Corporation. Prosecutors also said Thao should have reported money his son received from the Hmong American Community, which prosecutors say did business with HUD.
But Thao argued during court proceedings that there were explanations for why the money was not reported.
He said the $5,200 was not income, but reimbursement for money he had fronted for a Hmong Economic Development Corporation event.
Thao argued that the Hmong American Community never received money from HUD, and thus there was no conflict and no need to report his son’s income from the organization. Hammerschmidt had said at the time that HUD gave money to another organization also with the acronym HAC — the Housing Assistance Corporation.
Thao’s lawsuit alleges false arrest, malicious prosecution, fabrication of evidence and racial discrimination.
His lawsuit claims Sudduth and a HUD agent discriminated against him and that Sudduth continued to press an investigation even after she knew the Hmong American Community allegation was untrue.
The suit further claims that HUD’s investigative arm received “numerous confirmations” that parts of Thao’s alleged crimes were untrue, but did not investigate.
In March 2006, Thao was placed on indefinite suspension by HUD. He was reinstated in July 2009, according to the lawsuit.
Thao declined to comment, and his civil attorney, Jacob Weisberg, was out of the country.
The reporter can be reached at email@example.com or (559) 441-6320.