By Rich Bockmann
In the latest installment of the sweeping corruption probes to hit Queens, the president of a Laurelton nonprofit that received thousands of dollars in member items from several borough lawmakers was arrested Tuesday and charged with pocketing the cash, authorities said.
Van Holmes, president of the Young Leaders Institute Inc., was charged with filing false paperwork to cover up more than $85,000 in city and state tax dollars he allegedly stole from the nonprofit, state Attorney General Eric Schneiderman said.
“Van Holmes pocketed tens of thousands of state and city taxpayer dollars meant to help low-income students and their families,” the AG said. “The men and women elected to public office and put in charge of public service organizations have a special responsibility to protect the public interest. Working together with [state] Comptroller [Tom] DiNapoli, we intend to use every tool in our arsenal to crack down on anyone who abuses the public trust.”
Schneiderman said that from 2007-10, Holmes got three member items sponsored by convicted former state Sen. Shirley Huntley, who will begin serving a 366-day sentence this month after pleading guilty in federal court earlier this year to a similar embezzlement scheme.
Huntley also pleaded guilty to covering up the theft of taxpayer dollars from another nonprofit after Schneiderman’s office brought charges against her last year, and she has accused him of unfairly targeting her.
Sen. James Sanders (D-Jamaica), who left the City Council after ousting Huntley from her seat last year, and Councilmen Leroy Comrie (D-St. Albans), Mark Weprin (D-Oakland Gardens) and Ruben Wills (D-Jamaica), all allocated money to Holmes’ nonprofit in the past several years.
Schneiderman’s office said Holmes’ alleged theft of about $11,000 in city money is the focus of the investigation, which he categorized as ongoing, and said it would be “inappropriate” to presume the lawmakers had acted improperly simply by setting aside items for the nonprofit.
Comrie earmarked $3,500 for the nonprofit in fiscal years 2012 and 2013, but his item from last year is listed as “pending.”
He said he had already put the item in the budget when city investigators raised red flags about the group.
Weprin, whose records show he allocated $5,000 in each of the past two years to the nonprofit, released a statement saying he had canceled the checks after he learned of possible misconduct.
“I do not know Mr. Holmes and have had no involvement with the organization,” he said. “Last year, I rescinded funding for the group when I was informed that there was a problem with its finances. The organization received no money from my City Council discretionary funds for the last two years.”
Sanders gave $3,500 in 2012 and Wills, Huntley’s former chief of staff, allocated $17,000 in 2012. Wills was subpoenaed by the AG’s office last year as part of an investigation into $33,000 in state funds distributed by Huntley to a nonprofit he ran. No charges have been filed.
Holmes was charged with grand larceny, forgery, falsifying business records and offering a false filing instrument, Schneiderman said. He faces up to 15 years in jail if convicted on the top count.
While state authorities have been bringing charges against lawmakers, federal investigators have been conducting their own probe, leading to the arrest of Sen. Malcolm Smith (D-Hollis) and Councilman Dan Halloran (R-Whitestone) in April.
Reach reporter Rich Bockmann by e-mail at [email protected] or by phone at 718-260-4574.