Haydn "Fats" Thomas, whose name is linked to two rental cars used this summer by UNC basketball player P.J. Hairston, pleaded guilty today to gun and drug charges in Durham Superior Court. The judge suspended a prison sentence in lieu of a 36-month probation term.
Thomas had been charged for possession of a gun by a felon, maintaining a dwelling used to keep and sell drugs, and possession of drug paraphernalia.
Dressed in a black suit with a double-slit in the back, a black shirt and a black tie, Thomas was calm and polite while responding to Judge Carl Fox's questions. He declined to say anything beyond his guilty plea.
In May, Hairston, a junior, was cited by Durham police for speeding in a Camaro that was rented by Thomas and Thomas' roommate at different periods during the year. That Camaro was cited for at least 12 parking violations on UNC's campus, according to a USA Today report
The next month, Hairston and two acquaintances were driving in an SUV paid for by Thomas when it was pulled over at a Durham police checkpoint. Police discovered marijuana and a handgun inside. When the news broke, Thomas, who is 39, initially denied knowing Hairston, but later admitted that he often threw parties attended by UNC athletes.
It is against NCAA policy to provide college athletes with rental cars and other gifts. Hairston and fellow guard Leslie McDonald, a senior — arguably the team's two best shooters — have begun the season on the bench due to eligibility concerns. The NCAA has launched an investigation into UNC and potentially impermissible benefits.
Today in court, Assistant District Attorney Thomas Crosby explained that on Dec. 14, 2012, Durham Police responded to a complaint in South Durham about the smell of marijuana coming from an apartment building in which Thomas was living temporarily. A responding officer was invited into the apartment by another party and noticed the odor. The officer conducted a sweep of the apartment and discovered mason jars, digital scales, multiple grinders, glass bongs and plastic baggies, along with 12 grams of marijuana.
The officer also discovered a black semi-automatic Springfield handgun and Ruger P345 handgun.
Thomas was in the shower when the officer arrived at the apartment and emerged only later. He admitted that the drug contraband belonged to him. His attorney, Randy Griffin, told Judge Fox that if his case had gone to trial, he was prepared to testify that the guns did not belong to him.
As a felon, Thomas is not allowed to own or possess a firearm. In 2006 he was convicted for accessing a computer for fraudulent purposes.
Griffin told the court that Thomas is currently employed in his cousin's business, requiring him to travel between New York and Florida multiple times a month. Griffin said that the business was related to dentistry. Recent reports have suggested that Thomas is a cousin of Spencer Howard, a dentist, UNC alumnus and a co-owner of Iceberg Guards.
This summer UNC sent Iceberg a cease-and-desist letter, telling the company to stop using McDonald to promote its brand online. During at least one game last season, McDonald wore a customized designer mouth guard and later referred to it on social media.
Prior to today's hearing, Thomas faced a prison sentence of up to four years. Judge Fox warned Thomas to be careful in the future. "You seem to have a sort of affinity for guns," he told Thomas. "You'll be a very sad man if you get 40 years in prison." Then he referenced the film American Gangster
, quoting a military officer's advice to Denzel Washington, who plays the role of drug kingpin Frank Lucas: "Quit while you're ahead."
Incidentally, Thomas was a security manager at the strip club that once employed Crystal Mangum, who later falsely accused Duke lacrosse players of rape. In an ironic calendar scheduling, while Thomas was being sentenced today, Mangum was on the witness stand in an adjacent courtroom. She is on trial for first-degree murder, accused of stabbing her boyfriend Reginald Daye two years ago. She admitted to the stabbing but claims she did it in self-defense during a domestic violence dispute.