Spring Valley corruption trial: Fonvil testifies today


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Opening arguments for Spring Valley Trustee Vilair Fonvil corruption trial at the Rockland County Courthouse. Ricky Flores/lohud

NEW CITY – Prosecutor Richard Kennison Moran on Tuesday challenged Spring Valley Trustee Vilair Fonvil’s credibility on where he lives and how he orchestrated the disbursement of village money, attempting to undercut Fonvil’s testimony that he didn’t conspire with contractor Jermika Depas to steal $11,000 from a summer camp program.

Fonvil also Tuesday admitted having a romantic relationship with his co-defendant and giving her $3,500 to pay her rent over the last three months of 2016.

The prosecution and defense ended their cases Tuesday afternoon. The trial will resume Wednesday with closing statements before County Court Judge Kevin Russo at the County Courthouse in New City.

During his questioning, Moran also challenged Fonvil’s testimony that Depas ran the summer camp program when he admitted he received thousands of dollars in cash from banker’s checks cashed by two bus monitors and a parent of one of the campers.

Fonvil said the money was reimbursement for loans and salaries advanced to camp bus monitors and drivers — a position Moran questioned extensively before County Court Judge Kevin Russo. Moran said the money was village funds.

Fonvil denied he stole any of the money or profitted from the camp program — which the village financed for more than $27,000 sought by Fonvil to pay the coordinator, monitors and for buses that were not used.

Moran tried to undercut Fonvil’s contention Depas ran the camp program when he acknowledged he hired Depas as coordinator and the three people he recommended for monitors were close friend Micane Mede, the daughter of a close female friend, Sabina Argent, and Depas’ brother, Lucius Street.

Fonvil said he tried to search for other people to work as coordinators through Trustee Sherry McGill but got no responses. He admitted he gave Depas $3,500 to pay her rent in late 2016 and had a romantic relationship with her after the summer camp program ended in 2016. 

“Whether you say it was a loan, I had no expectation of being paid back,” Fonvil said, acknowledging he used the term loan in his grand jury testimony when Moran read back his words.

Moran pointed out that Fonvil lent several thousand dollars and advanced pay to Depas, Argent and Mede, even though Fonvil’s only salary was $25,000 as a village trustee. When Moran asked how Fonvil could afford to pay out thousands of dollars from his pay, Fonvil said he had a joint account with his wife, whose salary as a nurse was $115,000 and he didn’t get an allowance from his wife.

Fonvil said he gave Depas money pay her rent from October to December in 2016, saying she had worked hard on his political campaign as a volunteer.

“You didn’t disclose any type of loan you’ve given to Depas” to village officials, Moran asked Fonvil, who responded, “Correct.”

The village originally financed $24,225 for the camp program and another $3,750 sought by Fonvil, who wrote the contract outlining the busing and the hiring of monitors, along with the salaries and costs. The extra money was to pay his friend, Micane Mede for driving the children in village vans to camp.

Fonvil was asked to explain the math behind having monitors and a parent of a camper cash bank checks made out in their names and then turn the money over to either Fonvil or Depas. He could not explain why checks were made out to other people when he received the proceeds.

Two bank checks were bought July 27, 2016, and cashed within hours with the money going to Fonvil.

Fonvil said he paid the salaries after Depas refused to pay Mede, Argent and Street when they declined to fill out W-2 forms. He testified Mede started a “revolution” against signing the required forms.

Street has said Fonvil paid them with cash in white envelopes. At one point, Depas handed out W-2 forms to cover the pay, but Fonvil angrily grabbed the forms off the table and ripped them up, Street testified.

Street also testified that he cashed a $5,700 check made out to him for being a bus monitor and turned the money over to Depas on July 27.

Mercedes Rodriguez, whose child attended the camp and needed money, testified she got paid $500 to cash a $3,500 check for Fonvil and Depas. Fonvil drove to Rodriguez’s house and brought her to the bank. He said he had loaned her $3,000 to pay her rent and the money was reimbursement.

Mede cashed a $7,500 check and turned the money over to Fonvil. Fonvil said the money reimbursed his salary payments to Mede, who claimed to be Fonvil’s right-hand man on political activities.

Fonvil said he went with Mede to the bank to cash the $7,500 check because he wanted to make sure he got paid the $1,000 he fronted for Mede’s salary. He said Mede had him hold $2,000 for a trip to Haiti. Fonvil said Mede liked to gamble and party. 

Moran has argued that Fonvil and Depas created an $8,000 slush fund by using village vans rather than a bus company to drive the children to camp and hired only two bus monitors when six were funded by the village.

The felony charges against Fonvil and Depas include third-degree grand larceny as a crime of public corruption, third-degree corrupting the government, and money laundering. Fonvil faces an additional charge of receiving reward for official misconduct as a public official.

Moran also went after where Fonvil lives.

Fonvil testified that his wife and son live in West Orange, New Jersey, and he spends time with them, as well as living in his parents’ apartment house on Prospect Street in the village.

“Where do you live?” Moran asked. When Fonvil responded in the village, Moran told him the wiretap on his phone from December 2016 to March also indicates where the calls were made.

“Your cell phone calls began and ended for 90 days in West Orange,” Moran said, leading Fonvil to agree, “I sleep in New Jersey. I sleep in Spring Valley.”

Moran also noted Fonvil had testified he knew if he’s convicted of a felony he can’t serve in government during questioning from his lawyer, Kevin Dunlap, who represents the trustee with Deborah Wolikow and Kenneth Gribetz. Fonvil must live in Spring Valley to serve in government.

Fonvil, 54, a trustee since December 2013, first took the stand Thursday.

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Fonvil testified they used village vans, not to save money, but because he couldn’t get buses to drive the children. He said the program got started too late because of government in-fighting and bus companies had clients.

He said he used a bus firm called Emes Transportation recommended by Trustee Asher Grossman. But Fonvil said the buses were filthy and couldn’t work late on Fridays because of the Jewish Sabbath.

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Fonvil told the judge that six monitors was an arbitrary number depending on the need and number of children.

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If Russo convicts him of a felony, Fonvil would lose his board seat, as well as face time behind bars.

Final arguments by the prosecution and defense are expected Wednesday. Russo would then consider the evidence toward a verdict.

Twitter: @lohudlegal

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