Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas may not have paid off large portions of a previously undisclosed $267,230 loan from a wealthy friend to buy a luxury motor coach, according to a Senate Finance Committee report obtained by The New York Times.
The committee’s findings are the latest to raise ethical questions related to the justice’s finances, following a series of revelations that the high court jurist benefitted from undisclosed real estate deals and was lavished with luxury vacations from conservative mega-donor Harlan Crow.
Mr Thomas, who was confirmed to the Supreme Court in 1991, received extremely favourable terms on a loan from friend Anthony Welters, a healthcare industry businessman.
Under the terms of the 1999 loan, the committee found, Mr Thomas would only make interest payments on the Prevost Marathon Le Mirage XL motor coach for five years, when the principal would be due.
By the time the principal was due, Mr Thomas still hadn’t paid off the loan, and received a 10-year extension, before Mr Welters decided the debt was satisfied in 2008, even though records do not confirm whether the full loan was ever repaid.
If Mr Thomas received substantial debt forgiveness and didn’t report it, it could have major ethics and tax implications.
“I loaned a friend money, as I have other friends and family,” Mr Welters told the Times. “We’ve all been on one side or the other of that equation.”
He added that he has sought, but has been unable to obtain, records showing Mr Thomas’s interest payments may have eventually paid back the original purchase price of the vehicle, prompting the businessman to forgive the rest of his loan to the justice.
The Independent has contacted Mr Thomas via the Supreme Court for comment.
Mr Thomas’s political and financial connections have been under a magnifying glass in recent months.
This summer, following a series of investigative reports into his undisclosed benefits involving Mr Crow, the Supreme Court justice disclosed various recent trips on the billionaire’s private jet.
Mr Thomas also amended past disclosure forms, writing in an accompanying statement he “inadvertently omitted” information but always “adhered to the then existing judicial regulations as his colleagues had done, both in practice and in consultation with the Judicial Conference.”
Mr Thomas isn’t the only one on the high court who has attracted scrutiny.
Justice Samuel Alito raised eyebrows after it was reported he took a flight on hedge fund billionaire Paul Singer’s plane to a luxury fishing lodge in Alaska. Mr Singer has had business before the Supreme Court.
Justice Alito defended himself against allegations of ethics violations, describing the flight as “transportation for a purely social event.”
The wife of John Roberts, meanwhile, has come under scrutiny for earning millions as a legal search consultant for top law firms, some of whom ended up having business before the Supreme Court.
This month, Justice Amy Coney Barrett said at an event at the University of Minnesota that she supports an ethics code for the Supreme Court, which is bound by federal financial rules for federal judges but exempt from other federal ethics rules and largely polices itself.
"I think it would be a good idea for us to do it, particularly so that we can communicate to the public exactly what it is that we are doing in a clearer way than perhaps we have been able to do so far," she said.