- Associated Press - Thursday, August 13, 2015

NEW ORLEANS (AP) - A former Mississippi basketball star, who won a modest contract to keep the books at New Orleans Traffic Court and wound up collecting some $1.3 million in checks signed by the judges over three years, has been sentenced to a three-year federal prison term.

U.S. Attorney Kenneth Polite’s office said in a news release that U.S. District Judge Stanwood Duval sentenced Vandale Thomas on Wednesday.

Duval took into account Thomas’ rags-to-riches-to-casinos story in agreeing to a sentence that fell well below the guideline range of 51 to 63 months.

Thomas, who is not a certified public accountant, claimed that much of his work involved fixing the court’s electronic system for paying fines. He said former Chief Judge Dennis Dannel, who died in 2011 after a long battle with cancer, had verbally approved the extra work.

Thomas’ authorized contracts with the court and the city added up to less than half of what he billed, and Thomas admitted he used much of the proceeds to feed a raging gambling addiction.

His habit saw him drop hundreds of thousands of dollars at various casinos in New Orleans; Baton Rouge; Biloxi, Mississippi; Atlantic City, New Jersey; and Las Vegas as he raked in billings from the court, going from judge to judge to secure their signatures.

Over four years at one casino alone, Belle of Baton Rouge, Thomas brought $1.3 million to the tables, a casino official testified.

The money-laundering allegations against him include the purchase of more than $20,000 in casino chips at Harrah’s in September 2010 and $11,680 he spent a month later as a down payment on a Bentley GT Coupe valued at $80,000.

Thomas played basketball at Mississippi State University before blowing out his knee, transferring to Southern University and then playing professionally in Helsinki, Finland, and later in England.

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