Opening statements begin in corruption trial of Mount Vernon's former top attorney

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The state's trial for Mount Vernon's former top attorney, who is accused of defrauding the city's Water Department, began Thursday.

Opening statements began in the state's criminal case against former Mount Vernon corporation counsel Lawrence Porcari.

Porcari is charged with corrupting the government, grand larceny, defrauding the government and offering a false instrument for filing.

He was indicted this past May.

He's accused of stealing more than $350,000 from the city's Water Department to pay then-Mayor Richard Thomas' legal fees and a public relations firm.

At that time, Thomas was under indictment for state election violations. He has since pleaded guilty and resigned.

"He chose to use his position of trust to engage in a scheme to steal from and defraud the Mount Vernon Board of Water Supply through deception and an abuse of power to divert hundreds of thousands of dollars to benefit his boss," says Brian Weinberg, special counsel for the New York State Attorney General's Office.

During opening statements, attorneys for the New York State Attorney General's Office laid out the alleged scheme, arguing Porcari wanted to please the mayor but couldn't get the funds through the proper city channels. They say he instead requested multiple checks from the Water Department, which is a separate city entity with its own budget and less financial oversight - all while knowing what he was doing was illegal.

Porcari's lawyer argues he never intended to defraud or steal from anyone.

"You're going to learn that Harry never got one dime, one penny of any of these monies," says Stephen Lewis, Lawrence Porcari's attorney.

Lewis says city officials refused to approve the payments so Porcari went to the Water Department as his only way to pay off the money the city owed. He added that the Water Department has been used to pay for non-water-related items for years.

Those expected to testify in this case include one of Thomas' former criminal attorneys, the former city Water Department commissioner, and the City Council president at the time, Lisa Copeland.

The trial is expected to last around two weeks.

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