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Laurelton nonprofit prez pleads guilty to larceny

Photo by Ellis Kaplan
By Rich Bockmann

The attorney for Van Holmes, the president of a Laurelton nonprofit who pleaded guilty earlier this week to pocketing tens of thousands of public dollars, said his office will be paying refunds to the parents whose children were enrolled in Holmes’ now-defunct summer camp.

“If [their claims] are accurate, they’ll get 100 cents on the dollar,” Howard Birnbach said.

Holmes, president of the Young Leaders Institute Inc., was arrested July 16 and charged with stealing more than $85,000 in member items that were set aside by state and city lawmakers over several years, but that the community member instead used to line his pockets, authorities said.

After pleading guilty to one count of grand larceny before Queens Supreme Court Justice Dorothy Chin-Brandt this week, Holmes was sentenced to six months in jail and five years’ probation and agreed to pay back $95,000 in restitution, state Attorney General Eric Schneiderman and state Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli said in a joint statement Tuesday.

“Defenders of government must also be its harshest critics, and it is crucial that we bring swift justice to anyone who betrays the public’s trust by abusing taxpayer funds,” the statement read. “Today’s plea and sentencing are an appropriate punishment for the crimes committed against the taxpayers of New York and the children for whom these funds were intended.”

From 2007-10, Holmes received three member item grants totaling about $80,000 sponsored by then-state Sen. Shirley Huntley (D-Jamaica), who earlier this year pleaded guilty in two separate embezzlement schemes, one uncovered and prosecuted by Schneiderman.

But instead of taking youngsters on trips to Wall Street and Albany as he claimed to be doing, Holmes pocketed nearly $77,000 of those funds and used them to pay employees of after-school programs and summer camps he ran, Schneiderman and DiNapoli said. He charged the parents a fee.

One of the parents who paid $850 to send her 5-year-old daughter to Holmes’ camp this summer said the program has been shut down since Friday, and she is scrambling to find day care for her child while she waits for her refund.

“I need that money to find another camp,” said Latoya, who only wanted to give her first name. “I’ve been out of work for two days now trying to find her another place to go.”

Schneiderman and DiNapoli said Holmes also stole more than $11,000 out of about $30,000 in member items funded in 2011 and 2012 by City Councilmen Leroy Comrie (D-St. Albans), James Sanders Jr. (D-Laurelton), Mark Weprin (D-Oakland Gardens) and Ruben Wills (D-Jamaica).

City budget documents show the funds were supposed to offer “academic enrichment” through after-school programs providing recreational activities and help with math and science homework.

The authorities said their investigation focused on Holmes’ theft and it would be “inappropriate” to presume malfeasances on the part of any public official simply for allocating funds to a nonprofit.

Reach reporter Rich Bockmann by e-mail at rbockmann@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4574.

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