ALBANY—The mayor of Mount Vernon was arraigned on state felony charges Monday morning for allegedly stealing from his campaign and other alleged violations of state election laws.
Richard Thomas, a 35-year-old Democrat, is accused of stealing nearly $13,000 from his 2015 campaign account and improperly diverting another $45,000 from his inaugural committee for personal use. Thomas also allegedly lied on his financial disclosure to the Board of Elections and on his report to the city of Mount Vernon.
Thomas is charged by state Attorney General Eric Schneiderman with grand larceny in the third degree, two counts of offering a false Instrument for filing in the first degree and two counts of offering a false instrument for filing in the second degree, according to the felony complaint filed in Mount Vernon City Court.
The first-term mayor, the youngest in the city’s history, surrendered Monday morning at the Westchester County Department of Public Safety, according to The Journal News.
In a statement released Monday afternoon, Thomas refuted the charges filed against him.
“The allegations are false. I want to reassure the people of Mount Vernon that they are related to the campaign and not my service in office. I have great confidence in our legal system and have no doubt I will be able to prove our full compliance. I will not allow the process to distract me from my service and duties. I expect to be fully vindicated,” Thomas said.
In the same emailed statement, Thomas’ lawyer, Carl Bernstein, said that the allegations are “unfounded.”
“The mayor’s 2015 campaign never, in any way, intended to violate the law and expects that, through the justice system, his name will be completely cleared of any wrongdoing. The mayor and his team of legal experts await their opportunity to refute these charges in a court of law. The allegations are not public corruption, they are campaign infractions that could have been handled with simple amendments to paperwork filed,” Bernstein said. “If the attorney general really wanted to rid the city of Mount Vernon of corruption, he would be teaming up with Mayor Thomas, who has made public ethics a top priority and has done more to fight corruption than any of his predecessors in City Hall. ”
It was not immediately clear what other attorneys are on Thomas’ legal team.
Prior to being elected, Thomas allegedly transferred campaign funds into his personal account to make car, insurance and rent payments, according to the complaint. After winning the election in December 2015, Thomas allegedly used a credit card linked to his campaign committee to pay for a family breakfast at John F. Kennedy International Airport and a meal at Bubba Gump restaurant in Mexico. Thomas allegedly diverted more than $45,000 from his inaugural account for personal use and failed to disclose it, the complaint alleges. The diverted funds paid for charges incurred from the family’s trip to Mexico, a Chanel purse and credit card payments.
While there’s “latitude” on what campaign funds could be spent on, “there’s a limit on what you can do,” Schneiderman said at a press conference announcing the charges Monday afternoon.
“You are not allowed to pay for just anything and everything with a campaign account,” he added. “While each individual expenditure might look like something that is not that big a deal, the pattern of looting here is extraordinary. This is not typical. To deposit checks from your campaign committee into your personal checking account to pay things off is not common. This is very unusual.”
The investigation by Schneiderman’s office, which was referred to him by State Comptroller Tom DiNapoli, found that Thomas allegedly lied on his 2016 financial statement to the city of Mount Vernon when he declined to reveal that businesses controlled by an unnamed individual, as well as his campaign account, paid for Thomas’ personal American Express bills. Following the inauguration, the unnamed individual in the complaint was appointed to a high-ranking position in the city by Thomas.
The investigation into Thomas is still ongoing, Schneiderman said.
“We are looking into additional matters and we encourage anyone with any information pertaining to these crimes to contact our Public Integrity Bureau. Public corruption strikes at the heart of our democracy. Corruption, like Mayor Thomas’ eroded the public trust and makes New Yorkers more cynical about their public servants,” Schneiderman said.
“I hope that today’s charges against Mayor Thomas will show residents of Mount Vernon and beyond that no one, no matter what their office, is above the law,” the attorney general added.
If found guilty of the felony charges, Thomas would have to vacate the position under state law.