A Yonkers tax collector invented and levied "late fees" on city residents, lining his pockets with the cash until a suspicious taxpayer complained about the policy, prosecutors said Thursday.
Lionel Thomas, 35, charged taxpayers $220-$380 for the nonexistent late fees on their legitimate tax payments and "would issue an official-looking 'receipt' " after collecting the cash, the Westchester County district attorney's office said.
So far, prosecutors said they know of six separate transactions in which Thomas levied his invented late fees on taxpayers, pocketing a total of $1,890. All six incidents were recorded over a monthlong period, starting with a $380 late fee paid by taxpayer on Oct. 31, 2012, and ending with a $360 late fee paid by a taxpayer on Nov. 29.
After paying the fee, one of the taxpayers had doubts and called the Department of Taxation and Finance to ask about the policy, prosecutors said. That's when authorities got involved and began their investigation.
Yonkers detectives think Thomas allegedly ran the scam for longer than the one-month stretch in 2012, and they said they anticipate hearing from more victims now that the word is out.
"Although no one enjoys paying taxes, citizens of Yonkers should feel confident that their hard-earned money is going to finance their quality of life and services and not into the pocket of a city employee who established his own taxing authority," District Attorney Janet DiFiore wrote in a statement.
Thomas was hired by Yonkers in April of 1999 and earned $48,405 in 2011, records show. He was suspended for 30 days after the allegations came to light in November. It was not immediately clear whether his arrest impacted his employment status with the city.
His suspension was the subject of speculation on a local blog and radio show, with one blogger calling the allegations "tragic" and unwarranted.
Thomas was charged with first-degree scheming to defraud, a felony. He was arraigned Thursday and released pending a court hearing March 28. Attempts to reach Thomas or his attorney were unsuccessful. Two phone numbers listed for Thomas in public records were disconnected, and there was no answer on a third phone line.