Thomas faces attention from U.S. Attorney
Haydn “Fats” Thomas has generated interest from plenty of people in the past month — including the U.S. Attorney for the middle district of North Carolina.
During a short hearing Tuesday, Durham County assistant district attorney Tom Crosby said that the U.S. Attorney “has expressed an interest” in the latest case involving Thomas, who was arrested in December and charged with possession of marijuana, maintaining a dwelling with the intent to sell a controlled substance and possession of a firearm as a convicted felon.
Thomas is a central figure in the saga of P.J. Hairston, North Carolina’s leading scorer during the 2012-13 season. Hairston was stopped for speeding in May and arrested for misdemeanor possession of marijuana at a traffic stop in June. In both instances, the rising junior was driving rental cars that were linked to Thomas.
If Hairston was given the vehicles because of his status as an athlete, it would be considered an NCAA violation and the guard could be suspended for part of the 2013-14 season.
Thomas rented the 2013 GMC Yukon that Hairston was driving when he was arrested — a fact first publicized by the message boards on Pack Pride, an N.C. State fan site, and then confirmed by USA Today.
Thomas, 39, was represented in Durham County Court on Tuesday by his attorney John R. Griffin III. When asked why the federal government was interested in the case, Griffin responded: “I don’t know. Maybe the State fans called him.”
Thomas has been connected to four cars that have received nine tickets on UNC’s campus since Feb. 22, and he spent more than $15,000 on rentals at the Hertz in Raleigh-Durham International Airport over the past five months, according to published reports.
Thomas also had connections with other UNC basketball players. He said he sold a used iPhone to rising senior Leslie McDonald, and he was pictured at a party with Hairston, McDonald and former UNC player John Henson.
If it is determined that basketball players took impermissible benefits from Thomas, his potential cooperation with school or NCAA investigators could help determine the amount of penalties the basketball program would receive.
Though none of those interactions with UNC athletes are illegal, Griffin was concerned that the attention on his client could cause him to receive a stiffer punishment on his most recent charges.
“I’m hoping the press won’t get involved in the outcome of this case so that he can get a fair outcome, like anybody else would, and not get punished because people have tied him in with Carolina basketball,” Griffin said. “Especially with this area, as big as sports are around here, you wouldn’t want him to get punished more severely because he’s tied in with the P.J. incident.”
Thomas has served no prison time, according to N.C. Department of Correction records, but his criminal record dates to 2002. It includes a 2006 conviction in Wake County for obtaining property by false pretense, a felony, for which he recieved a suspended sentence.
He also was convicted in Durham in 2006 of accessing computers to defraud, a felony, and using and possessing drug paraphernalia, a misdemeanor. In 2002, Thomas was convicted of carrying a concealed weapon and possession of stolen goods, both misdemeanors.
Of course, all of those sentences came before Thomas was the subject of message board posts and national newspaper articles.
“Now you have to worry about will the public express an opinion and feel a certain way about him and what should happen on his case, whereas if it was just someone the public didn’t know, they might be looking at probation,” Thomas said. “The D.A. may say, ‘Well we should lock him up because we have a lot of people looking at it, and if we don’t prosecute it to the fullest, the public’s going to be looking at the outcome of the case.’ So that’s a concern of mine.”
Crosby said that Thomas was offered a plea deal, but Griffin said he was waiting to see what the U.S. attorney had to say.
The U.S. Attorney for the Middle District is Ripley Rand, who has deep ties to UNC. He earned his bachelors and law degrees at the school and was a member of the Board of Visitors from 2004-08. He also co-wrote a children’s book titled “I Want to Go to UNC!”
A spokesperson for the district court said she couldn’t comment on the case since there has not been an indictment.
Thomas, who was not in court Tuesday, had his trial continued to Aug. 19. Hairston is scheduled to appear in the same court Aug. 6 on the charges stemming from his traffic stop.