Head of Queens Nonprofit Accused of Stealing $88K in Funds, AG Says

By Ewa Kern-Jedrychowska on July 16, 2013 12:18pm | Updated on July 16, 2013 3:28pm

 Attorney General Eric Schneiderman.
Attorney General Eric Schneiderman.
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Getty Images/Mark Wilson

QUEENS — The president of a Queens non-profit surrendered to authorities Tuesday morning for allegedly stealing money from the charity he ran, state Attorney General Eric Schneiderman and Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli announced after conducing a joint investigation.

Van Holmes, the head of the Young Leaders Institute in Laurelton, stole about $88,000 by creating dozens of false records and forging documents which he filed with state and city agencies in order to get public money, Schneiderman's office said.

The non-profit also had ties to ex-state Sen. Shirley Huntley, who allocated money for the institute, the AG said.

Huntley was sentenced to one year in prison in May for stealing $88,000 from a non-profit she ran — the Parents Information Network — to go on shopping sprees.

She also wore a wire, secretly recording seven elected officials and two aides last summer. Eight of them are now the subjects of criminal investigations.

Holmes was charged with grand larceny, forgery and falsifying business records and faces up to 15 years in prison if convicted.

“Van Holmes pocketed tens of thousands of State and City taxpayer dollars meant to help low-income students and their families,” said Schneiderman in a statement.

“Taxpayer dollars meant to create a better future for New York teens at the Young Leaders Institute were instead used to purchase men’s wear, car repairs, and theater tickets," DiNapoli said. "It’s shameful."

From 2007 to 2010, Holmes obtained three grants from Huntley, according to Schneiderman's office.

He allegedly created false invoices and payment records which he submitted to the State for reimbursement. As a result, he received a total of approximately $80,000 from the State, roughly $77,000 of which he stole, Schneiderman said.

For example, he forged documents to make it appear as if he took 50 youths on a two day trip to a retreat, while in fact no such trip took place, the documents say.

He also claimed that he spent $70,000 on a program that aimed to offer youths the opportunity to go on trips to Wall Street and Albany, to receive mentoring and training, and to participate in a “stipend program funded by State Senator Shirley Huntley,” among other things. According to the complaint, the program never occured.

In 2011 and 2012, Holmes received five discretionary awards, totaling about $30,000, from various City Councilmen, according to the complaint. He stole $11,000 from that amount, again by creating false business records and forging reimbursement documents, Schneiderman said.

For example, he was charging for participation in an afterschool program that was supposed to be funded by the city council discretionary funds and encouraged parents to pay him cash whenever possible, Schneiderman said.

Holmes' lawyer did not immediately respond to an e-mail seeking comment.

Councilman Mark Weprin, who was named in a New York Post article as one of four elected officials being investigated for their ties to the group, said in a statement that he doesn't know Holmes and has no involvement with the organization.

"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," he said.

Councilman Ruben Wills said he recommended funding for The Young Leaders Institute in 2010 and 2011. "In the past, this organization has done good work in the community," he said. He also noted that City Council discretionary funding requests are vetted by the City Council, as well as the Mayor’s Office of Contracts and the funding agency "before one dollar is issued to any organization."

Wills said that his office had "not been contacted by the Attorney General’s office pertaining to this matter, but if and when we are, we plan to fully cooperate.”

Councilman Leroy Comrie, who unexpectedly dropped out from the Queens Borough President race on Saturday, said he gave the group $3,500 in 2011.

"When we found out that there was a problem, we stopped funding them," said Comrie, adding that every year he recommends over 200 programs for funding.

Comrie also said that he had never been contacted by investigators about the group.

Schneiderman's spokesman said he could not confirm whether there was an investigation, but the Attorney General said in his statement that "individual disbursements of public funds are not themselves evidence of any wrongdoing, and it would be inappropriate to presume that any particular public official has engaged in misconduct simply by directing funds to a non-profit."

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