Senate Finance probe: Justice Clarence Thomas never repaid $267K loan for luxury RV

Memo alleges wealthy friend paid off principle for veteran justice, who never disclosed deal in tax, ethics forms

A Senate investigation found that Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas had the majority of a loan for a luxury RV forgiven. File Photo by Eric Lee/UPI
A Senate investigation found that Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas had the majority of a loan for a luxury RV forgiven. File Photo by Eric Lee/UPI | License Photo

Oct. 26 (UPI) -- An investigation by the Senate Finance Committee alleges Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas never fully repaid a $267,230 loan to buy a luxury RV more than 20 years ago, while a wealthy friend covered the debt.

The committee, chaired by Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., issued a memorandum Wednesday summarizing the alleged backroom deal in which Thomas never reported the loan on his taxes or annual financial disclosure statements.


Further, the report alleges the veteran justice made a lump-sum interest payment on the loan but never paid a dime toward the principle.

"Today the committee has the answer to one of the pressing questions raised by reporting about his arrangement with Justice Thomas -- was the loan ever repaid? Now we know that Justice Thomas had up to $267,230 in debt forgiven and never reported it on his ethics forms," Wyden said, calling on Thomas to provide more details about the low-key transaction, which was first reported in August by the New York Times.


"Regular Americans don't get wealthy friends to forgive huge amounts of debt so they can buy a second home. Justice Thomas should inform the committee exactly how much debt was forgiven and whether he properly reported the loan forgiveness on his tax returns and paid all taxes owed. I have also directed the committee to share our findings with the Judiciary Committee to evaluate the ethics implications of this disclosure."

Thomas was facing increased Congressional scrutiny following a broader scandal that came to light in the spring, involving luxury travel and gifts extended to the high court justice over two decades.

The committee said Thomas obtained the loan from Anthony Welters, a U.S. executive and philanthropist, to purchase a deluxe Prevost Marathon motor coach in late 1999.

The committee highlighted a critical piece of evidence in the form of a promissory note from Dec. 6, 1999, handwritten by Thomas on Supreme Court stationary, that outlined the purchase agreement between Welters and Thomas and his wife, Virginia Thomas.

As part of the deal, Thomas granted Welters a security interest in the motorhome and agreed to pay him 7.5% interest toward the purchase, the committee said.

A year later, in December 2000, Thomas wrote Welters a check for $20,042.23 to cover his portion of the interest and walked away from the deal debt-free, according to the panel.


Nearly eight years later, in November 2008, Welters put in writing to Thomas that he would seek no further payments on the loan, while indicating the high court justice had paid only interest in the deal.

The committee said it found no additional documents indicating that Thomas made any payments beyond covering the loan's interest.

Typically, the IRS treats loan forgiveness as taxable income.

The Senate investigation comes amid calls for stricter ethics rules following a report by ProPublica earlier this year that exposed decades of luxury travel by Justice Thomas, which was paid for by a number of billionaire Republican megadonors, including David Sokol, H. Wayne Huizenga, Paul "Tony" Novelly, and Harlan Crow.

The report revealed that Thomas had routinely accepted at least 38 unreported lavish vacations underwritten by wealthy benefactors, and failed to disclose flights, yacht cruises and expensive sports tickets taken over a 20-year period.

At the time, Thomas defended his actions, saying ethics rules didn't require him to report the gifts he received, including a lucrative payout from a real estate sale and private school tuition for his grandnephew, which Thomas did not report on financial disclosure forms.

Wyden previously sought records from Crow related to flight and yacht trips he took with Thomas as well as other supposed gifts.


In June, Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito also sought to dispel a ProPublica report alleging he went on a luxury Alaskan fishing excursion 15 years ago with a billionaire Republican donor whose hedge fund was the subject of several high court rulings in which Alito never recused himself.

Latest Headlines