LINKEDINCOMMENTMORE

Mike Perlstein / Eyewitness News
Email: mperlstein@wwltv.com | Twitter: @mikeperlstein

NEWORLEANS-- Vandale Thomas, the former accountant for New Orleans Traffic Court, was indicted Friday, accused of a massive theft of city funds.

Thomas, 40, who was the chief financial officer for the court from 2008 through 2011, was indicted on embezzlement and money laundering charges, U.S. Attorney Kenneth Polite announced.

The charges come two years after an Eyewitness News investigation and an audit by the New Orleans Inspector General's Office uncovered potential fraud.

Thomas 'submitted grossly inflated invoices to New Orleans Traffic Court,' the indictment contends.

In the 12-count federal indictment, Thomas is accused of stealing from the city by charging for services he never delivered, including the theft of more than $1.3 million -- half of which was allegedly stolen outright and the other half allegedly not supported by invoices.

Thomas also stands accused of money laundering by purchasing $10,000 racks of chips at Harrah's Casino on at least two occasions and buying himself a 2005 Bentley GT Coupe for about $80,000.

In an audit of Traffic Court in 2011, the Office of Inspector General revealed internal problems, including lack of oversight over its finances, such as paying Thomas.

'They didn't oversee this accounting contractor or require supporting documentation for the bills he submitted. This is about $660,000. And the invoices are for huge blocks of hours without any description whatsoever,' said Ed Quatrevaux, the New Orleans inspector general, in Nov. 2011.

The amount paid to Thomas in 2010 totaled more than $560,000, or $46,000 a month. At Thomas' pay rate of $80 an hour, he and his company, Thomas & Thomas Accounting Services, were logging almost 20 hours a day for 30 days each month for 365 days, the entire year.

Judge Robert Jones, the chief Traffic Court judge, considered Thomas a personal friend. Thomas is a key player on Jones' softball team and also serves as Jones' campaign treasurer. The OIG audit also questioned why Thomas was hired as the court's accountant at the same time he was Jones' campaign treasurer.

Jones has denied any knowledge of theft or overbilling by Thomas.

If convicted as charged, Thomas faces more than 10 years in prison and forfeiture of up to $1.3 million.

Read or Share this story: http://www.wwltv.com/story/news/local/investigations/mike-perlstein/2014/09/04/14623726/