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Queens Chronicle

Laurelton nonprofit leader arrested for fraud; AG says Holmes has ties to Huntley

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Posted: Tuesday, July 16, 2013 5:02 pm | Updated: 7:32 pm, Tue Aug 20, 2013.

The head of a Queens-based nonprofit agency was arrested Tuesday amidst allegations that he stole more than $85,000 in taxpayer funds for his personal use.

Van Holmes, president of the Young Leaders Institute in Laurelton, was arrested in what New York State Attorney General Eric Schneiderman said is an ongoing investigation “into the funds directed by former New York State Senator Shirley Huntley and others to charities like the Young Leaders Institute.”

In a statement issued by his office, Schneiderman said Holmes was charged with second- and third-degree larceny, second-degree forgery, first-degree falsifying of business records and first-degree offering a false instrument for filing.

He could face up to 15 years in prison if convicted. 

Huntley, who will begin serving a prison term this month for stealing $87,000 form a sham nonprofit she set up while in the Senate, is said to have sponsored three member item grants for the Van Holmes charity between 2007 and 2010.

The New York Post also is reporting that City Councilmen Leroy Comrie (D-St. Albans), Mark Weprin (D-Oakland Gardens) and Ruben Wills (D-Jamaica), and state Sen. James Sanders (D-Jamaica), also “are now under investigation” after giving member item funds to the charity.

Comrie said he does not know where the Post received its information about himself and his colleagues being under investigation by the attorney general or anyone else, though he does know his office has funded the Young Leaders Institute in the past.

“I have served my district with distinction, and for anyone to suggest otherwise is a misrepresentation,” Comrie said. “And when we received word from authorities in 2012 that the group was under investigation, we stopped funding them.”

Schneiderman’s press release does not mention any past or current politicians except for Huntley, and his press office in Manhattan declined to comment on the Post’s report.

The press release stated that “it would be inappropriate to  presume that any  particular public official has engaged in misconduct simply by directing funds to a nonprofit. The subject of this particular case was Mr. Holmes’ theft of tens of thousands of dollars of public funds from the Young Leaders Institute.”

Weprin issued a statement saying he had read the Post article.

“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.”

Messages left  with Sanders’ and Wills’ district offices were not returned.

Comrie said his office requires vast documentation from agencies and nonprofits seeking financial assistance, but still must rely on the appropriate city agencies to conduct the required audits for the nonprofits. 

In a joint press release with Schneiderman and New York City Department of Investigation Commissioner Rose Gill Hearn, New York State Comptroller Tom DiNapoli said the money Holmes allegedly took was meant to help low-income students and their families.

“My office has found far too many instances where public money is abused for personal use,” he said. “Taxpayer dollars meant to create a better future for New York tens at the Young Leaders Institute  were instead used to purchase menswear, car repairs and theater tickets. It’s shameful.”

The state is alleging that in one instance, Holmes crafted false invoices to collect reimbursement for a trip taking 50 children on a two-day, two-night trip to a retreat center — a trip the state alleges never took place.

The state also alleges that Holmes “fraudulently” claimed to have spent $70,000 on a business and entrepreneurial program that would include visits to Wall Street and Albany to receive mentoring and training in “job readiness and running their own business,” and to participate in a “stipend program funded by State Senator Shirley Huntley.”

The complaint against Holmes alleges that the program never took place, and that he submitted false records for things like the purchase of 12 laptop computers and paying of program consultants.

For one program that did take place, Holmes is accused of forging employee records and tax forms, and falsifying employees’ time sheets.  

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