Former New Orleans Traffic Court Chief Financial Officer, Vandale Thomas, Found Guilty After Trial
U.S. Attorney Kenneth A. Polite announced that, after a week-long jury trial, VANDALE THOMAS, age 40, a resident of Prairieville, Louisiana, was convicted on all 11 counts of theft, money laundering, and structuring transactions to evade reporting requirements. Seventeen witnesses testified for the United States, establishing that THOMAS knowingly embezzled over $680,000 during his three-year tenure as the Chief Financial Officer at New Orleans Traffic Court (“Traffic Court”).
THOMAS was found guilty of three counts of theft concerning programs receiving federal funds resulting from his employment at Traffic Court. Evidence presented at trial established that on November 24, 2008,THOMAS and his accounting firm, Thomas & Thomas Accounting Services, LLC, were hired by Traffic Court to provide accounting and bookkeeping services. THOMAS’s initial agreement with Traffic Court allowed him to bill at a rate of $75.00 an hour and his contract was not to exceed $75,000 for a twelve month period. THOMAS’s billings exceeded $75,000 within the first few months of his agreement. On six additional occasions between November 24, 2008, and April 13, 2011, THOMAS received written authorization from the City of New Orleans and Traffic Court to expand the amount that he could bill. In total, the City and Traffic Court authorized THOMAS to submit invoices and receive compensation for accounting services in an amount not to exceed $627,000. However, subsequent audits by the Louisiana Legislative Auditor’s Office and the Office of the Inspector General for the City of New Orleans, and an investigation by the Federal Bureau of Investigation revealed that THOMAS submitted 174 invoices and was issued 173 checks totaling $1,311,065.53.
THOMAS was also found guilty of three counts of laundering illegal funds obtained from Traffic Court. The jury found that on September 14 and September 24, 2010, THOMAS used illegally obtained money from Traffic Court to purchase casino chips in excess of $10,000 at a New Orleans casino and THOMASused illegally obtained money from Traffic Court to make a down payment on an $80,000 Bentley GT Coupe.
Additionally, THOMAS was found guilty of five counts of structuring transactions to evade reporting requirements. According to the evidence and testimony presented during the trial, THOMAS used numerous bank branches in order to evade federal currency transaction reporting requirements. Specifically, THOMAS went to multiple bank locations in New Orleans and Baton Rouge to structure cash withdrawals in order to evade the currency transaction reporting requirement that all transactions over $10,000 be reported by financial institutions to the Internal Revenue Service.
The maximum penalty THOMAS may receive for Counts 1 through 6 (Theft from Programs Receiving Federal Funds and Money Laundering) is ten years’ imprisonment and a $250,000 fine per count. The maximum penalty for Counts 7 through 11 (Structuring Transactions to Evade Reporting Requirements) is five years’ imprisonment and a $250,000 fine per count.
Sentencing in this matter is scheduled for January 14, 2015, before U.S. District Judge Stanwood R. Duval, Jr.
U.S. Attorney Polite stated, “Vandale Thomas defrauded the City of New Orleans out of hundreds of thousands of dollars in taxpayer dollars. He then blatantly flaunted his fraudulent conduct on gambling sprees and expensive cars. Today’s guilty verdict ensures that Thomas will be held accountable for his corrupt conduct. Moreover, this case should send a message to those public officials who are engaging in corruption, or are even contemplating doing so. Everyone in this community—the U.S. Attorney’s Office, our law enforcement partners, average residents, your co-workers, even those who you believe are trusted co-conspirators—will eventually work together to turn a spotlight on your criminality.”
IRS-CI Special Agent in Charge, Gabriel L. Grchan, stated, “All of the facts set forth in this trial proved that what Vandale Thomas did was nothing more than common thievery. The residents of New Orleans and the surrounding areas are fed up with seeing individuals like Thomas steal public funds to support their personal lifestyles of extravagance. The jury echoed that sentiment today with their verdict. IRS-CI will continue to aggressively pursue individuals who engage in the theft of public funds, and will seek to have them prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.”
New Orleans Inspector General Ed Quatrevaux stated, “The conviction today of the former Traffic Court accountant began with an evaluation of Traffic Court by the New Orleans Office of Inspector General, and shows what happens to those who steal from the City today. OIG staff assisted our federal law enforcement partners and prosecutors in building the case against Vandale Thomas. This partnership has resulted in the City of New Orleans being much better protected from those who would prey upon it, and we thank our federal partners for their efforts.”
U.S. Attorney Polite praised the work of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, Internal Revenue Service-Criminal Investigations Division, and the New Orleans Office of Inspector General in investigating this matter. Assistant United States Attorneys Brian M. Klebba, Matthew Payne, and Marquest Meeks are in charge of the prosecution.