SE Queens non-profit head pleads guilty to stealing funds allocated by Huntley

Photo by Christina Santucci
By Rich Bockmann

A week after he was arrested, the head of a Laurelton youth camp agreed Tuesday to pay back tens of thousands of dollars in public money he scammed from the do-nothing nonprofit, authorities said.

Van 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 crooked community member instead used to line his pockets.

After pleading guilty to one count of grand larceny before Queens Supreme Court Justice Dorothy Chin-Brandt, 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. We thank the Department of Investigation, as well as staff in both the attorney general’s and comptroller’s offices, for their diligent work and a successful outcome in this case.”

From 2007-10, Holmes received three member item grants totalling 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, and for which he charged parents a fee.

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 said 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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