MT. VERNON – Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman and Comptroller Thomas P. DiNapoli announced the arrest of Mount Vernon Mayor Richard Thomas for allegedly stealing campaign funds and lying about money he diverted from his inaugural committee for personal benefit. Mr. Thomas was arrested on a felony complaint this morning after an investigation that exposed the theft of approximately $12,900 from his campaign committee, and the diversion of over $45,000 from his inaugural committee for personal use and his failure to disclose it.
“As we allege, Mayor Thomas used his campaign and inaugural accounts as personal piggybanks – part of a long-running scheme that began during his 2015 campaign and continued throughout his time in office,” said Attorney General Schneiderman. “As we detail in the felony complaint, Mayor Thomas treated these accounts as slush funds to pay off cars, dinners, and even a Chanel purse, and then lied about it in his filings. Public corruption strikes at the very heart of our democracy, and we’re committed to continuing to root it out across New York.”
“This official allegedly misused campaign funds and failed to report gifts,” StateComptroller DiNapoli said. “We will continue to fight public corruption wherever we find it.” (see press conference below, starts at 4:06 minutes into video)
The felony complaint filed with the Court today charges Thomas with one count of Grand Larceny in the Third Degree (a Class D felony); two counts of Offering a False Instrument for Filing in the First Degree (a Class E felony); and two counts of Offering a False Instrument for Filing in the Second Degree (a Class A misdemeanor).
The complaint details a scheme through which Thomas allegedly stole approximately $12,900 from his 2015 mayoral campaign committee, the Friends of Richard Thomas (“FORT”). After winning the mayoral election, Thomas established the Richard Thomas Inaugural Committee (“RTIC”), ostensibly to fund an inaugural celebration, but instead allegedly personally profited from RTIC by diverting over $45,000 for personal use and failing to disclose it.
An investigation further revealed that Thomas allegedly lied on his 2016 annual statement of financial disclosure with the City of Mount Vernon when he did not reveal that businesses controlled by an individual referred to in the felony complaint as “Individual 1,” as well as RTIC, paid Thomas’ personal American Express (“Amex”) bills. After his inauguration, Thomas appointed Individual 1 to a high-ranking position with a City agency that deals with public safety, although Individual 1 had no prior law enforcement experience. Additionally, and during the pendency of this investigation (which Thomas was made aware of in December 2016), Thomas allegedly lied on his 2017 annual statement of financial disclosure with the City when he did not reveal various sources of funding he received during the reporting period, including a tuition payment made to New York University on his behalf.
Theft from Campaign Committee and False Disclosures to the Board of Elections:
An analysis of Thomas’ personal and campaign committee bank accounts revealed that Thomas allegedly used FORT funds for personal use, stealing approximately $12,900.
Thomas claimed on campaign filings that two separate payments that he issued to himself from FORT, totaling $8,900, were “reimbursements.” An analysis of Thomas’ personal bank accounts, however, revealed that Thomas never laid out any money warranting reimbursement; instead, records of Thomas’ personal bank account show that Thomas was low on personal funds at the time he received the so-called “reimbursements” from FORT. He allegedly used that money for personal expenses, such as rent for his family residence, car loans, and a payment for three automobile insurance policies for two vehicles on which Thomas was listed as the owner, and another vehicle registered to one of Thomas’ relatives. Thomas also allegedly took an additional $4,000 payment from FORT, not disclosed to the New York State Board of Elections, that he used for personal expenditures.
As alleged in the complaint, not only did Thomas falsely report money he took as reimbursements to the NYSBOE, but he also falsely disclosed meals during a family vacation as campaign expenses. That includes a family breakfast at JFK Airport that Thomas listed on FORT’s NYSBOE 2016 January Periodic filing as a housekeeping expense for “food”; Thomas falsely listed the restaurant’s corporate address, 352 Park Avenue in Manhattan, on the disclosure as the place of expenditure. The complaint also alleges that Thomas falsely disclosed a meal at a Bubba Gump Shrimp Co. restaurant in Mexico during a family vacation; rather than truthfully disclosing that the expenditure took place in Mexico, Thomas falsely used the address of the Bubba Gump restaurant located in Times Square in Manhattan and falsely designated the meal as a “volunteer appreciation” event.
Inaugural Committee Slush Fund:
Thomas also allegedly diverted over $45,000 from his inaugural committee for personal use and failed to disclose it.
After taking office in January 2016, Thomas allegedly used funds from the RTIC account to pay the monthly balance on his and his wife’s personal Amex. In mid-January 2016, a payment for $8,538.16 was made from the RTIC account to Thomas’ Amex; included in those expenses were charges incurred for a family vacation to Mexico. In late February 2016, a payment for $6,000 was made from the RTIC account to the Thomas Amex; included in this balance was the purchase of a Chanel purse that cost more than $2,000. In both March 2016 and May 2016, two separate $5,000 payments were made from the RTIC account to Thomas’ Amex, totaling another $10,000. In October 2016, a payment of $5,320.99 was made from the RTIC account to Thomas’ Amex account; in November 2016, another payment of $2,993.18 was made; and in December 2016, another payment of $3,685.14 was made.
As alleged in the complaint, Thomas took pains to conceal an additional $14,000 payment he received from RTIC by having two close personal relatives receive payments from RTIC and then kick those payments back to Thomas. Each of the two relatives owned companies that received payments from RTIC, ostensibly for services rendered relating to events sponsored by RTIC. According to the complaint, after receiving the payments from RTIC, the relatives then quickly issued checks to Thomas for close to the full amount paid to them.
Additional Ethics Violations:
According to the complaint, prior to Thomas filing his 2017 annual statement of financial disclosure with the City, he learned of the existence of the Attorney General’s investigation. In the 2017 annual statement, Thomas disclosed the RTIC payments to his American Express account as a “loan” from RTIC. Thomas, however, failed to disclose a $10,000 gift he received from a private individual that he had used to pay back the supposed RTIC loan. Additionally, he failed to disclose a $6,000 “gift” he received from another individual who paid his NYU Stern School of Business tuition bill.
The investigation is ongoing. The charges are merely accusations and the defendant is presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty in a court of law.
The Attorney General and Comptroller would like to thank the New York State Board of Elections Division of Election Law Enforcement.
The investigation was handled by Investigator Angel LaPorte, under the supervision of Supervising Investigator Sylvia Rivera and Deputy Chief Investigator John McManus. The Attorney General’s Investigations Bureau is led by Chief Investigator Dominick Zarrella. Assisting in the investigation and providing forensic auditing analysis was Forensic Auditor Alex Ozechowski, under the supervision of Deputy Chief Auditor Sandy Bizzarro. The Forensic Audit Section is led by Chief Auditor Edward J. Keegan Jr. Also assisting in the investigation was Analyst Katharine Litka and former analysts Mollie Krent and Morgan McCollum.
Assistant Attorney General Brian P. Weinberg, Special Counsel to the Public Integrity Bureau, oversaw the investigation and is prosecuting the case under the supervision of Public Integrity Bureau Chief Daniel G. Cort and Deputy Bureau Chief Stacy Aronowitz. The Attorney General’s Criminal Justice Division is led by Executive Deputy Attorney General Margaret Garnett.
The Comptroller’s investigation was conducted by his Division of Investigations.
Since 2011, Attorney General Schneiderman and Comptroller DiNapoli have worked together to fight corruption through their Joint Task Force on Public Integrity. They have brought charges against dozens of individuals implicated in public corruption schemes around the state – resulting in the return of over $11 million in restitution to taxpayers through these convictions.