MANHATTAN (CN) – Indicted in his home county on fraud charges, the mayor of Mount Vernon cannot challenge his prosecution in New York City, a judge ruled Monday.
Mount Vernon Mayor Richard Thomas filed the petition at issue a week ago exactly in Manhattan Supreme Court, saying that the state Attorney General’s Office exceeded its authority in pursuing an investigation of him based on the comptroller’s referral.
Justice Arthur Engoron ruled Monday that Thomas may have had a point, but that the politician’s subsequent indictment in Westchester altered the analysis.
“As a result of the indictment, what had been an attempt to prevent an investigation is now a collateral attack on a criminal case pending in another county,” Engoron wrote. “The ‘investigation’ has become a ‘prosecution.’ Case law precludes petitioner from seeking injunctive relief in this court to quash an ongoing criminal prosecution … elsewhere.”
On May 16, a Westchester grand jury charged the 35-year-old Democrat with stealing more than $12,000 in campaign funds and failing to report his use of more than $45,000 in inaugural funds on personal expenses.
“We welcome the decision and look forward to proving our case in court,” Amy Spitalnick, a spokeswoman for the Attorney General’s Office, said Monday in an email.
Thomas is set to be arraigned Friday in White Plains. About 10 miles south of the courthouse, Thomas won the 2015 mayoral election with 70 percent of the vote.
He was arrested back in March on a felony complaint filed by then-Attorney General Eric Schneiderman. Among other things, Schneiderman accused Thomas of using campaign money to cover rent, car payments, a $2,000 Chanel purse and expensive meals, including one at Bubba Gump Shrimp Co. during a family vacation to Mexico. Thomas also is accused of failing to disclose that individuals and businesses at times paid his American Express bills and made an NYU tuition payment for him.
Thomas claimed that the attorney general acted on “an improper referral” from the state comptroller and that Schneiderman’s temporary replacement, Barbara Underwood, could not seek his indictment from the grand jury because she was not appointed by the Legislature.
Schneiderman resigned unexpectedly earlier this month after four of his former romantic partners lobbed allegations of physical abuse.
Engoron wrote that the mayor’s challenge had meat.
“If this court were forced to decide whether or not the AG had the authority to investigate the matters at hand,” wrote Engoron, “it would decide that it did not.”
Whereas Thomas’ campaign funds were given privately, Engoron emphasized that tThe comptroller’s office is supposed to deal only with misuse of state funds.
Going forward, however, Engoron said Thomas must take this issue to Westchester County Court.
Boies Schiller attorney Randall Jackson LLP vowed to keep fighting on the mayor’s behalf.
“We appreciate the court’s careful consideration of the matter and its sound conclusion that the attorney general has been engaged in an illegal investigation, in violation of New York’s laws and Constitution,” Jackson said.
“We look forward to addressing this issue and other serious problems with this case in the appropriate courts.”