Mount Vernon Mayor Richard Thomas was indicted on Wednesday by a Westchester County grand jury on grand larceny and filing false instrument charges, on accusations that he stole funds from his campaign and inaugural committees on or about Oct. 2015 through Jan. 2016.
Thomas is charged with three counts in the third degree of grand larceny and a single count of grand larceny in the fourth degree; two counts of filing a false instrument in the first degree; and two counts of filing an instrument in the second degree. The grand jury directed Acting Attorney General Barbara Underwood to file the indicting instrument with the court.
On March 12, Schneiderman issued a joint news release with Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli announcing the filing of a felony complaint in Mount Vernon City Court charging Thomas, 35, with grand larceny and filing false instruments for allegedly stealing $12,900 from his 2015 campaign committee and diverting $45,000 from his inaugural committee funds for his personal use, including for car and insurance payments, a family vacation in Mexico and purchase of a $2,000 Chanel purse; and for allegedly lying about it on financial disclosure forms.
Mayor Thomas will be arraigned on the indictment on Friday, May 25, 2018 at 9:30 a.m. before Judge Barry Warhit in Westchester County Court in White Plains . The case will be assigned to Judge Anne E. Minihan other than for arraignment, according to the attorney general’s office.
In an emailed statement provided late Wednesday, Jackson said, “we are looking forward to addressing the numerous problems with this investigation and prosecution in court. The Mayor will continue to work for the citizens of Mount Vernon as we address these unfounded charges.”
Lawyers for Thomas had filed a petition in state Supreme Court in Manhattan on Monday seeking to throw out the felony complaint alleging campaign-finance violations filed by former New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, who resigned his post on May 7 under a cloud of sex abuse allegations.
The petition alleges that Schneiderman’s office violated Article 78 of New York Civil Law and Practice Rules. The petition filed on Monday argues that the attorney general lacked authority to investigate or file corruption charges against the mayor of Westchester County’s eighth largest city for alleged violations of campaign and elections law, except under specific circumstances that were not met.
The petition, which named interim Attorney General Barbara Underwood as a respondent/defendant, asked the court to declare that the attorney general’s complaint was issued in error and in violation of state law. It also asks the court to order the attorney general to halt the case “given the unconstitutional provenance of the matter,” and for attorney fees and court costs.
A spokeswoman for the interim attorney general said, “We look forward to proving our case against the mayor in court, and will not be distracted.”
The petition filed for the mayor Tuesday argues that the New York Constitution and Court of Appeals have made clear that the comptroller’s authority extends only to use the of state funds in state “political subdivisions.”
“In this case, there are no allegations that Mayor Thomas misused public funds. Thus … the entire investigation … is outside the scope of the comptroller and therefore outside the attorney general’s authority,” the petition states. It continues: “Moreover, as a result of the attorney general resigning abruptly under a cloud of impropriety, there is no attorney general. An acting attorney general not appointed by the legislature has no authority to take an official action such as seeking an Indictment from a grand jury.”
But a source familiar with the matter noted that there have been other instances in the state in which defendants tried to throw out prosecutors’ claims during a transition based on lack of authority, which have not been successful. Also, the Attorney General’s Office has successfully prosecuted other cases referred by the state comptroller.
Betsy Gotbaum, executive director of the government reform group Citizens Union and a former New York City public advocate said, “The attorney general was in place when it happened. It had nothing to do with the personality but the office. The person in the office now has the right and the obligation to continue what the other attorney general filed.”
Jackson, a former assistant U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York who successfully prosecuted employees of Bernard Madoff, joined Boies Schiller in 2015 in its white-collar defense and investigations practice. Partner Scott Wilson and associate Sara Winik are also listed on the defense team.
This story was updated with comment from defense attorney Randall Jackson, and with information on arraignment.