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Mount Vernon Mayor Used Campaign Funds As 'Personal Piggy Bank,' AG Says

Mount Vernon Mayor Richard Thomas
Mount Vernon Mayor Richard Thomas Photo Credit: Contributed

Mount Vernon Mayor Richard Thomas is facing multiple felonies after he allegedly stole campaign funds and lied about money he diverted from his inaugural committee for personal benefit.

New York State Attorney General Eric Schneiderman formally announced charges against Thomas on Monday afternoon, after an investigation exposed that he allegedly stole $12,900 from his campaign committee and diverted more than $45,000 from his inaugural committee for personal use and failed to disclose that information to officials.

Thomas was charged with third-degree grand larceny and two counts of third-degree ordering a false instrument for filing, all felonies. He was also charged with two counts of second-degree offering a false instrument for filing, misdemeanors.

“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,” Schneiderman stated. “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. We’ll continue to fight public corruption wherever we find it.”

According to Schneiderman, Thomas allegedly stole approximately $12,900 from his 2015 mayoral campaign committee, the Friends of Richard Thomas. After winning election, he allegedly established the Richard Thomas Inaugural Committee, which was “ ostensibly to fund an inaugural celebration, but instead allegedly personally profited from Richard Thomas Inaugural Committee by diverting over $45,000 for personal use and failing to disclose it.”

Schneiderman said that the investigation determined 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 unnamed individual paid Thomas’ personal American Express bills.

“After his inauguration, Thomas appointed (that individual) to a high-ranking position with a city agency that deals with public safety, although (the individual) had no prior law enforcement experience,” Schneiderman said.

“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.”

According to Schneiderman, Thomas claimed $8,900 of “reimbursements,” though, “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 his campaign committee,” the Attorney General noted.

Funds were allegedly used for personal expenses that included 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.

Last year, Thomas came under fire when a trip to Dubai allegedly cost the city more than $10,000.

Schneiderman noted that after taking office in January 2016, Thomas allegedly used campaign funds to pay the monthly balance of he and his wife’s personal American Express accounts, including a payment for $8,438.16. Other expenses paid through the campaign finances included charges from a family trip to Mexico. Schneiderman said that Thomas allegedly “took pains” to conceal an additional $14,000 payment he received by having two close personal relatives receive the payment before kicking the money back to the mayor.

According to the criminal 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, which is ongoing.

At a brief press conference on Monday, Thomas vehemently denied the allegations.

“The allegations are not true, and I want to reassure the people of Mount Vernon that this has nothing to do with my service in office, as it relates to the campaign,” he said. “I have great confidence in our legal system and I have no doubt that we will be able to prove our full compliance with the letter ethics and spirit of the law.”

The mayor noted that he “will not allow this process to distract me from my services and duties as mayor. I expect to be fully vindicated.”

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