Spring Valley trustee Vilair Fonvil and Spring Valley resident Jermika Depas are arraigned in Rockland County Court on April, 25, 2017. Additional pool video from courtroom provided by Fios 1 News.
NEW CITY – Spring Valley Trustee Vilair Fonvil and village contractor Jermika Depas face trial Monday on public corruption charges involving the theft of government money earmarked for summer camp busing.
The trial is scheduled to start before Rockland County Court Judge Kevin Russo with opening statements by prosecutor Richard Kennison Moran and defense attorneys Kevin Dunlap for Fonvil and Samuel Coe for Depas, a village resident hired to transport children to Ramapo camps during the summer of 2016.
Russo will decide the fates of Fonvil and Depas. They waived their rights to a jury trial.
Both Dunlap and Coe said Friday that the charges are baseless and will prove their clients didn’t steal village money or commit any crime. They claimed the village politics led to the criminal charges.
Fonvil, a controversial figure for his public feud with Mayor Demeza Delhomme, would lose his government seat if convicted of any one of the multiple felony charges in the indictment.
The 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.
The Board of Trustees, at Fonvil’s urging, authorized paying Depas $24,225 to coordinate busing children to camps. Fonvil is accused of pocketing $10,000 through a scheme in which Depas is accused of playing a role.
The contract, signed by Fonvil, called for Depas to hire six bus monitors to supervise the children. Instead they hired three monitors, prosecutors claim, and Fonvil is accused of paying the monitors in cash, never issuing them W2 forms to record their pay.
Days into the camp program, Fonvil and Depas stopped using the bus company the village had hired as he proposed using buses owned by Spring Valley, according to the charges.
During the final two weeks of camp, Depas used village funds to purchase three bank checks totaling $16,700, prosecutors claim. Two of the checks were issued in the names of two bus monitors and a third was issued in the name of a person not associated with the program.
All three checks were cashed hours later at the same bank where they were purchased, prosecutors charge. More than $10,000 was allegedly given to Fonvil by the people who cashed the checks. In one instance, Fonvil allegedly paid the person $500 to cash the check and give him the rest.
A backdrop was Fonvil’s feud with Delhomme over the camp program. The mayor wanted to continue Spring Valley’s practice of sending children to the Martin Luther King Multi-Purpose Center on Bethune Boulevard, while Fonvil pushed for using Ramapo’s camps.
Just days before camp was due to open, a compromise was reached to divide $160,000 to send 50-60 children to the King Center and another 70 kids to Ramapo’s Camp Scuffy.
The summer camp programs became a problem in 2014, when Delhomme was held in contempt of court and jailed for several days after Fonvil and other trustees reported that he had failed to open the village’s Louis Kurtz Center in time for a summer camp.
Dunlap, a former Rockland prosecutor, said Fonvil will testify at trial. Dunlap works with the New City firm of former District Attorney Kenneth Gribetz and former prosecutor Deborah Wolikow Loewenberg.
“The charges are baseless,” Dunlap said. “This is the political system of Spring Valley trying to tear down Mr. Fonvil. We intend to prove he didn’t profit a single penny from the program.”
Coe, who represents Depas, said Friday that she got caught up in the village’s political machinations, specifically the Fonvil and Delhomme rivalry, which included Delhomme not releasing the money.
“In terms of her involvment, I don’t know how they (prosecutors) are going to present evidence, if true, that can support the charges against her,” Coe said.
Moran, the executive assistant district attorney, could not be reached for comment on Friday. He’s District Attorney Thomas Zugibe’s lead attorney for the Public Corruption Task Force, which works with the FBI, and the U.S. Attorney’s Office in White Plains and Manhattan.
Coe said he doesn’t know if Depas will testify. He said that decision will be made during the trial.
“She got roped into this long-standing political mess between the current mayor and Mr. Fonvil,” Coe said of Depas. “She was trying to do things the right way. She wanted to do a good job and make a good name for herself. By all accounts, the camp she was running was a success.”
The hostility between Fonvil and his allies on the board — Trustees Asher Grossman and Sheri McGill — and Delhomme has led to lawsuits filed by both sides, and has caused village business to grind to a halt. The cost of legal fees recently prompted an insurance carrier to drop the village’s coverage.
Fonvil and Delhomme have had physical and verbal confrontations.
Fonvil lost a bid for mayor in a Democrat Party primary won by Alan Simon, a former village justice kicked off the bench by the state for inappropriate conduct. Simon faces two minor line candidates in November — former Mayor Allan Thompson and Trustee Emilia White.
Fonvil is among several Rockland officials to be convicted of public corruption-related charges.
Former Ramapo Supervisor Christopher St. Lawrence faces federal prison when sentenced Nov. 27 for securities and wire fraud, and conspiracy. Ramapo Building Inspector Anthony Mallia pleaded guilty in Rockland County Court to public corruption-related charges, as did former Ramapo Councilman Samuel Tress in Airmont Justice Court.
Tress resigned and didn’t get jail time; Mallia’s guilty plea doesn’t include incarceration when he’s scheduled for sentencing on Nov. 6.
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