The former chief financial officer for the New Orleans Traffic Court was charged last week with embezzlement, money laundering and evading the IRS, after federal officials say he embezzled almost $700,000 over his 36 months working for the city. He reportedly blew the money of gambling and expensive cars.
Vandale Thomas, who is 40, was charged with 12 counts of embezzlement and money laundering. He overbilled New Orleans by submitting fake invoices, ripping the city off for $684,000.
The indictment stated that he was the chief financial officer for the New Orleans Traffic Court from 2008-11. He was hired to keep the traffic court books in order, and to keep track of the financial records of the agency. But six different times during that period, he submitted bloated invoices totalling about $1.3 million. Based on the hours that he worked, he only should have gotten about ½ of that. He was not supposed to bill the city any more than $627,000.
Thomas was careful in how he took out the stolen funds; he often would make deposits and withdrawals just under $10,000 so that the transactions would not be reported to the IRS. He was trying to throw investigators off his trail.
The charges in this case came two years after there was an audit done by the New Orleans Inspector General’s Office. That is when the fraud was revealed.
He also has been accused of buying $10,000 chips at Harrah’s Casino in Las Vegas, and buying a Bentley for $80,000.
The audit of the traffic court books in 2011 revealed that there were a number of internal problems and not enough oversight over finances in the department, including the paying of Thomas.
The total amount paid to Thomas in 2010 was over $560,000, or about $46,000 per month. At his going rate of $80 per hour, he and his firm logged about 20 hours per day, 30 days per month for a year.
Judge Robert Jones is the top Traffic Court judge, and considered Thomas one of his close friends. Thomas was a player on Jones’ softball team and also was Jones’ campaign treasurer. The audit also asked why Thomas was hired to be the accountant for the court at the same time he was working as the campaign treasurer for Jones.
Jones denied that he had any knowledge of illegal activities by Thomas.
If Thomas is convicted, he could face over 10 years in federal prison and be force to forfeit over $1.3 million.