Mount Vernon Mayor Ernest Davis pleaded guilty today to two counts of tax evasion and faces up to two years in federal prison when he’s sentenced in January, U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara announced.
Davis, 76, admitted that he failed to file personal income taxes in 2011, when he earned $106,743 in adjusted gross income. But he never filed returns for that year, despite seeking a six-month extension, court records say.
Davis’ lawyer said following the plea that it would not impact Davis’ ability to continue to serve as mayor. Officials at the Mount Vernon Corporation Counsel’s office declined to comment on on the case.
While the charges call for up to two years in prison, a letter filed in the case by the U.S. Attorney’s office contemplates a sentencing range of zero to six months, based on Davis’ acceptance of responsibility and lack of criminal history, plus a fine of $1,000 to $10,000. Davis also has agreed to file the missing tax returns and pay any taxes due to the government.
Mount Vernon Comptroller Maureen Walker, a longtime political rival of the mayor who lost in by 101 votes in the last mayoral race to Davis, told the Journal News, “I’m kind of stunned right now,” Walker said. “I don’t know what to say.”
Mount Vernon City Council President Roberta Apuzzo, a longtime Davis friend, a had not heard the news when contacted by The Journal News, saying, “I’m just as surprised as you are.”
City Councilman Richard Thomas, who has also been seen as a political rival to the mayor and has been calling for more transparency from the Davis told Black Westchester, “I am troubled by the news and anxious to learn more about the situation. What does this mean for the leadership of Mount Vernon.
Westchester County Democratic Party Chairman Reginald Lafayette, who was outside court on unrelated matter, said he was unaware of charges but that Davis had been good mayor. He called the situation a “personal matter.”
Davis had been the subject of an investigation by the FBI and the Internal Revenue Service dating back to 2012, with federal agents scrutinizing business and charities set up by the embattled mayor, as well as 10 properties that Davis owns in four states.
At least two city employees with close ties to Davis were subpoenaed in the probe, both of them former secretaries for him during his earlier terms as mayor. Davis served three four-year terms at City Hall before losing in a re-election bid in 2007 to Westchester County Legislator Clinton Young. He was returned to office in 2011.
But federal investigators had been mum for more than a year before Tuesday’s guilty plea in U.S. District Court in White Plains.
The federal probe focused, in part, on several charities founded by Davis, including the Ernest D. Davis Scholarship Fund and the Mount Vernon Disaster Relief Fund. The Journal News later revealed that four other charities founded by the mayor were registered at his home at 137 Esplanade. All were listed as active non-profits by the state, but had been stripped of their federal tax exempt status for failing to file required annual financial reports with the IRS.
This isnt the first time Davis has come under federal scrutiny. A 2006 audit by the Dept. of Housing and Urban Development determined that the city had overbilled the agency by nearly $2 million. Although the city later reached a settlement to repay the money, the audit prompted a probe of Davis’ administration and its Urban Renewal Agency. Davis later sued the Department of Justice, claiming that the release of details of the probe cost him his re-election bid in 2007. The suit was later dismissed.
Davis is the latest local politician to be nabbed by Bharara. Others include former GOP state Sens. Nick Spano and Vincent Leibell. He’s also indicted Binghamton Sen. Thomas Libous for allegedly lying to the FBI over claims that he used his influence to get his son a job at a prominent Westchester law firm.
Davis, 76, in 1988 purchased a rental property in Mount Vernon but failed to file a federal corporate income tax return when he sold the place in 2003 or file paperwork on the sale, Bharara charged.
Black Westchester obtained a copy of Davis plea deal (click link below). Stay tuned to Black Westchester for further developments in the case.