TOP STORIES OF 2021: From his arrest to election as St. Clairsville councilman, Mark Thomas made headlines this year
ST. CLAIRSVILLE — Mark Thomas, a former St. Clairsville attorney and past Belmont County commissioner, began making headlines in September when he was indicted by a federal grand jury for mail fraud. As his case started to make its way through the courts, Thomas remained on the ballot and was elected to a St. Clairsville City Council seat.
Thomas is facing four charges of felony mail fraud stemming from allegations that he abused his status as power of attorney and stole more than $500,000 from an elderly client with dementia.
Thomas, 61, was arrested during a traffic stop in the alley behind the St. Clairsville Public Library.
He was transported to the Belmont County Jail on a federal warrant and held there without bond until federal authorities arrived to transport him to another location.
If convicted of all four mail fraud charges, Thomas could serve 20 years in prison.
Jennifer Thornton, spokeswoman with the U.S. Department of Justice office in Columbus, said Thomas made an initial appearance in federal court in early October. He appeared before Magistrate Judge Chelsey Vascura.
Chief Judge Algenon Marbley is assigned to Thomas’ case.
According to the indictment, Thomas is accused of defrauding a client from 2012 through August 2019 while serving as her power of attorney. It is alleged that Thomas took the victim’s money without her knowledge or permission to use for his own benefit.
The woman was 85 years old at the time the alleged crimes began. The indictment states that Thomas improperly used the victim’s power of attorney and his status as a lawyer — even after his law license was revoked in 2015 — to convince various entities, including banks and life insurance companies, to transfer the victim’s money for his use.
Since that first court appearance, Thomas’ trial date in the U.S. District Court Southern District of Ohio has been scheduled for July 11.
Thomas is being represented by attorney Andy Avellano. According to court documents, Thomas had hoped to represent himself, but Marbley ruled against self-representation.
David Twombly with the Columbus-based U.S. Attorney’s Office is prosecuting.
Avellano said he has not completed reviewing the discovery and requested eight months to prepare for trial.
“There’s several gigabytes of data that needs to be reviewed and the case will probably be considered complex, due to the nature of the allegations of financial fraud,” Avellano said. “We’d probably be moving the court for an expert to review the financial documents. It’s not an area that I’m well-versed in, so I’d need assistance there.”
Marbley said he expects the trial to last a month. He asked Avellano to submit his requests for assistance before the close of the year.
In November, Thomas ran an uncontested campaign for the 3rd Ward seat on St. CLairsville City Council. Since Thomas met all eligibility requirements and has not been convicted of a crime, he was elected to the post. Elections officials said should Thomas be convicted, it would be up to council to remove him from office.
The city charter — under Article III Council, Section 4. Vacancy-Creation of. — states that “Once elected and sworn in, a member of Council shall vacate his office … By conviction while in office of a crime involving moral turpitude. …”
Thomas is expected to take his seat on council next month. He has not responded to calls seeking comment about the charges.