Throughout his three-decade tenure on the Supreme Court, Clarence Thomas has consistently enjoyed a lifestyle that most Americans can only imagine. As a member of the ultra-wealthy and influential elite, he has been treated to a luxurious stream of experiences that are both wider and more extensive than previously known. On more than one occasion, private jets have been sent to fetch him, and he has been ushered into premium suites at sporting events. Additionally, he has been treated to far-flung vacations aboard yachts. This cadre of industry titans and ultrawealthy executives have ensured that he has access to a lifestyle that is truly extraordinary.
Without exception, Thomas’ leisure activities have been financially backed by sponsors who share the same principles that influence his legal ideology. Their donations encompass:
At least 38 destination vacations, including an unreported previously voyage on a yacht around the Bahamas, eight additional flights by helicopter and 26 private jet flights, a dozen VIP passes to college and professional sporting events typically perched in the skybox, and two stays at luxury resorts in Jamaica and an invitation to an exclusive golf club overlooking the Atlantic coast.
This accounting of Thomas’ travel is the first time an array of previously unavailable information has been revealed, showing just how far beyond his income Thomas could afford to live his generous lifestyle to the fullest.
Ethics experts suggest that Thomas may have breached the law by not revealing flights, yacht voyages, and costly sports tickets, although some of the accommodations, like stays in private residences, might not have necessitated disclosure.
Experts, including seven current and former federal judges appointed by both parties, informed ProPublica that the repeated occurrence reveals continual breaches of judicial standards, which may be even more noteworthy. Jeremy Fogel, a former federal judge who served on the judicial committee responsible for reviewing judges’ financial disclosures, stated, “I believe this is unparalleled. Throughout my career, I cannot recall witnessing such a high level of generosity being bestowed upon anyone.”
We have joined a number of trips with our family, as friends, said Thomas “The Crows are among our dearest friends.” In an April statement, Thomas defended the justice of his relationship with Crow. ProPublica revealed Harlan Crow’s billionaire real estate estate in Texas this year. Thomas benefited from Crow’s generosity, including payments for tuition, the purchase of his mother’s house in Georgia, gifts, private jet flights, and vacations.
Recently, it was revealed by The New York Times that Alger Horatio, a billionaire who transformed Waste Management and Blockbuster into goliaths, and David Sokol, a former top executive at Berkshire Hathaway, were among the wealthy businessmen who met with Horatio Alger, a nonprofit organization, to gain exclusive VIP treatment. These individuals had access to the Supreme Court building for events confirmed by ProPublica, with a cost of over $1,500 per person. This access was noted by Thomas Wayne, a reporter for The New York Times.
Trips from Crow incorporate ProPublica’s overall numbers in this article. Donations to the justice have not formerly been disclosed, whose contributions to the justice have not formerly been disclosed, petroleum magnate Paul “Tony” Novelly, another supporter, records and interviews demonstrate Thomas had.
After Thomas was appointed to the Supreme Court, I encountered these individuals – Novelly, Huizenga, Sokol, and Crow. Interestingly, Thomas’ financial disclosures do not mention any of their names, even though justices are legally obligated to publicly disclose most gifts, except for Crow.
The exact figure is probably in the millions, but it is challenging to determine the overall worth of the undisclosed journeys they have provided Thomas ever since his appointment to the Supreme Court in 1991.
Fund tax filings reveal that the school provided the foundation with $105,000 under the name “Justice Thomas Portrait Fund.” It has been discovered through newly obtained records from the U.S. Marshals Service that the purpose of this funding was for Justice Thomas to meet with several deans from Yale Law School and tour the room where a portrait of him would be displayed. In February 2016, Thomas traveled from Washington to New Haven, Connecticut, on Crow’s private jet, returning just three hours later. Based on estimates from jet charter companies, this round trip would have cost at least $130,000 each time if Thomas had chartered the jet himself. However, Huizenga, the former flight attendant and chef on board the plane, stated that it was Huizenga’s personal 737 that picked Thomas up and brought him to South Florida on at least two occasions, as confirmed by John Wener.
Don Fox, the former general counsel of the U.S. Office of Government Ethics and the senior ethics official in the executive branch, remarked that it is simply the pinnacle of hypocrisy to don the garments and lead the way of life of a billionaire. He further stated that taxpayers are entitled to anticipate that Supreme Court justices are not residing at the expense of others.
He told them, “You don’t have to acquire any new ones.” You were appointed before and you are friends with wealthy individuals. He advised the same thing to every new political administration that worked under both Republican and Democratic parties, according to Fox.
Novelly and Thomas, who are the president of the family’s holding company, also did not respond to multiple requests for comments on this story. Additionally, they did not answer a detailed list of questions regarding the death of Huizenga in 2018.
Sokol stated, “Our discussions have consistently centered around aiding youths, athletics, and familial concerns.” Sokol justified the righteousness and morality of the justice. He admitted to journeying with and occasionally accommodating the Thomases and expressed that he has been intimate friends with them for a duration of 21 years. “We have never even once deliberated on any impending legal issue,” Sokol proclaimed in a statement to ProPublica.
“Given the security concerns, I believe that all of the Supreme Court justices should either travel by private aircraft or use governmental planes,” he mentioned, discussing their use of private aviation.
Bader Ruth Ginsburg and Breyer disclosed that they took a tour of Jordan and Israel, which was paid for by a billionaire Israeli and gifts from an Israeli billionaire. Breyer Stephen accepted a flight to a wedding in Nantucket from a Democratic megadonor. Other members of the court have accepted travel underwritten by wealthy businessmen and speaking invitations at universities. However, the rules on what constitutes a gift under the ambiguous and few restrictions that justices can accept are unclear. “They said that justices follow court rules prohibiting them from accepting gifts from a group of people so frequently that a reasonable person would believe that the person using their public office for private gain,” said the justices.
He informed the bar association in Savannah, Georgia, in 2001 that the task is not worthy of the compensation they provide, but it is deserving of undertaking due to the underlying belief. Nonetheless, Thomas appears to be an exceptional exception in terms of the amount and regularity of all the undisclosed breaks he has received. At one point, he expressed discontent about sacrificing financial prosperity to serve on the court, although he portrayed the decision as a matter of moral conviction.
More than 100 eyewitnesses, including executives, C-suite members, river drivers, chefs, caterers, waitresses, photographers, security guards, crew members, yacht workers, airport attendants, flight pilots, helicopter and jet sources, and other individuals, were interviewed by reporters. In addition, Thomas’ wife sent personal cards and albums containing a trove of photographs, and court filings, tax records, security officials’ details, university and airport emails, flight data, and Thomas’ travel and relationships were examined by ProPublica to track his activities.
ProPublica has not identified any legal cases involving Novelly, Sokol, or Huizenga that impacted industries significantly, although Thomas documented their relationships with the Supreme Court during the court’s decisions.
The interviewer was told by Justice Thomas that he preferred to sit in a small restaurant on the strip of a mall or lawn billionaire’s while drinking soda, diet, or tea. He acknowledged that he discussed some of the billionaire’s companies, Huizenga, and that it wasn’t a kind of friendship. He also mentioned that in a small-circulation biography given to Huizenga’s family and friends, the author acknowledged Thomas.
They can’t do anything for me, and I can’t do anything for them. “Huizengas is not with but,” said Thomas, where quo pro quid is everything and we are in a society.
“Four Fortunate Pairs”
Sokol has been hosting the Thomases every summer for ten years. Sokol took care of everything, and they had been planning the vacation for months. On Labor Day weekend 2019, Thomas embarked on the first part of their journey out West by boarding a private plane in Washington, D.C.
His spouse and Mark Paoletta, a prominent supporter of the judge who was employed by the federal government at that time, were accompanied by the Thomases and other couples. Ginni Thomas had studied at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln before transferring. This marked the commencement of the home games at the Great Plains, their initial destination.
“The Sokols brought four fortunate pairs to the inaugural Nebraska football match of the season,” Ginni Thomas penned in one of the card descriptions. At a certain juncture, they posed for a photograph in the scoring area during intermission, all the while observing the marching band’s performance on the periphery. The ensemble exited the tunnel prior to the start of the game. Clarence Thomas rendezvoused with the football squad the day preceding the match. Sokol, a prominent benefactor of the university who completed their studies at the Omaha campus, coordinated for the party to partake in the football and volleyball matches with unrestricted entry passes.
In 2011, he resigned from Hathaway Berkshire, stating that his resignation was unrelated to the episode and he denied any wrongdoing. During that time, an internal investigation by the company found that he had violated its insider trading policy. He was never indicted and his resignation was unrelated to the episode, as he continued to deny any wrongdoing. He now also chairs a holding company that owns large utility power and international shipping corporations, as well as running a private equity firm.
The coach informed the group that none of them had been able to obtain tickets for Thomas Clarence and his 87-year-old mother, despite his efforts. He requested a ticket for Thomas Clarence from a local priest, which had a ripple effect on the Thomases. The coach, who was also the head coach of the team for 25 years, belonged to former Republican congressman Tom Osborne, who typically paid $40,000 annually for the skybox at football games. The group watched both the volleyball and football games on Saturday.
The Thomases have been treated at least seven times in recent years at appearances arranged by Sokol — five games at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, as reported by The New York Times.
Since the year 1999, Thomas has not reported any accommodations or private flights for any sporting events other than the Daytona 500. However, ProPublica has identified more than 60 federal judges who have disclosed tickets to sporting events between 2003 and 2019. Richard Painter, the former White House chief ethics lawyer for President George W. Bush, said “It’s obvious that all should be reported.” Thomas has never reported any of these tickets on his yearly financial disclosure forms, which require the disclosure of gifts worth more than $415.
The University of Lincoln Nebraska did not respond to requests for comments. Thomas Osborne, the university’s spokesperson, confirmed that he had given a statement to Thomas, but he did not answer whether Thomas has ever been reimbursed for the use of his suite, which he said is “taxed.” Thomas Osborne also confirmed that he has “watched” a couple of football games in his suite.
On Sunday morning, after the Nebraska football game, Thomas Sokol flew to Ranch Paintbrush Sokol’s in Jackson Hole, Wyoming. The valued property sits in the low figures of the Mountain Shadow foothills, and it is said to be the ultimate home, with the most iconic view of the Tetons. A local radio personality referred to it as “the estate.”
Based on photographs from the visits, Sokol has also welcomed the Thomases into his luxurious waterfront residence in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, which is presently valued at $20.1 million. The expansive property spans 12,800 square feet and boasts amenities such as a cinema, elevator, spacious wine cellar, and a dock for yachts. Furthermore, Sokol and Thomas have enjoyed their time together at Crow’s lavish retreat, Camp Topridge, located by a private lake in the Adirondacks.
The Thomases engaged in fishing, embarked on a rafting adventure on the Snake River, and relaxed by a campfire while enjoying the scenic view of the Teton Range alongside the other couples in Wyoming. At a certain moment, the Paolettas pleasantly surprised the judge by performing a song they composed specifically for him.
Paoletta stated, “I complied with all laws, regulations, and ethics.” He did not mention how much documentation or payments were involved, but Sokol stated that he was reimbursed because he was not required to disclose the trip, according to Paoletta’s statement. Paoletta was the designated official ethics officer and general counsel at the Office of Budget and Management at the time. Paoletta, like Thomas, did not disclose the trip in his annual financial filings.
River rafting guides, such as companions who are familiar, residents of the area, and employees at the airport, were selected based on interviews, social media posts, trip planning emails, and photographs, all related to the Nebraska and Wyoming vacation.
Sokol made a direct mention of an ongoing Supreme Court lawsuit last October in New Orleans while speaking to a gathering of previous recipients of the Horatio Alger scholarship, and Thomas was absent. Since 1990, Sokol and his spouse have contributed over $1 million to Republican politicians and organizations, as well as smaller sums to Democrats.
Acquired by ProPublica, as per a recording of the speech, he proceeded to condemn President Joe Biden’s plan to forgive student loans, contending that Biden had exceeded the government’s jurisdiction. Certain individuals believed that Sokol, an author who has extensively discussed American exceptionalism and the merits of unrestricted business, downplayed the significance of slavery and institutional racism. Correspondences and other forms of communication reveal that the speech ventured into areas that made numerous attendees uneasy and shocked others.
“It’s likely to be overturned by the Supreme Court,” Sokol predicted, echoing a prevalent legal commentary.
He was correct. This summer, the court invalidated Biden’s plan to forgive student loans. Thomas voted with the majority.
Caribbean Deep Sea Fishing
Every spring, a billionaire named Novelly, who has made his fortune in petroleum transportation and storage, takes his two yachts on a fishing expedition to the Exuma Islands in the Bahamas. The photographs from these trips show the beautiful cerulean waters and pristine beaches, as well as the mahi-mahi caught by Novelly and enjoyed with his family and friends.
On multiple occasions in recent years, three former workers of Novelly’s yacht, including a captain, told ProPublica that Thomas, the local chauffeur in the Bahamas, drove him to the marina where one of the billionaire’s private jets frequently docked and picked him up.
Le Montrachet, a luxurious vessel measuring 126 feet, offers accommodations for up to 10 guests, including a grand piano, multiple dining areas, a full bar, and a handful of smaller fishing boats and jet skis. Chartering it for a week costs approximately $60,000, making it an attractive option for those seeking an exclusive experience.
ProPublica informed Bergeron that Novelly is exceedingly benevolent towards his acquaintances. He characterized Novelly as an individual who takes pleasure in distributing his achievements among others. In approximately 2018, Novelly and Thomas visited Bergeron’s secluded ranch situated on the periphery of the Everglades. The expansive, secured property is adorned with ancient cypress trees and features a saloon reminiscent of the 1800s. “Alligator” Ron Bergeron, a prominent land and infrastructure developer in Florida, has also been a previous guest on Novelly’s yacht.
Thomas’s activities at the ranch focused exclusively on charitable work rather than business, according to Bergeron. He described his conversations with Thomas as a discussion about “an exceptional individual” who dedicates his time to effect positive change for the United States.
Novelly’s family and companies have publicly disclosed at least $500,000 since 1999 in federal elections supporting Republican candidates and conservative causes. (Both parties had previously contributed to him.)
Stepping down from his CEO positions, Novelly, conducted his business affairs assertively, ultimately finding himself in conflict with the government on at least two occasions, recently. Between St. Louis and Boca Raton, Florida, Novelly dedicates a significant portion of his time to his 23,000 square-foot luxurious estate, which has an appraised value of $22.2 million. In 2002, Novelly established residency and a holding company in the Virgin Islands. During a meeting with local officials, Novelly referred to this arrangement as a “quid pro quo,” indicating that the U.S. Territory received economic benefits in exchange for offering substantial tax incentives. Novelly denied this characterization, and the matter was eventually resolved with the government through negotiations, although the IRS later labeled it as an “abusive tax avoidance scheme” and pursued Novelly for millions of dollars in unpaid taxes and penalties.
In order to assist in the extraction of oil from the land, the corporation was obliged to provide approximately $150 million. The lawsuit was taken to the Supreme Court in 2010, however, the judges opted not to consider it. Numerous justices ruled against Apex, contending that the oil spill had transpired prior to the company’s bankruptcy proceedings years earlier. Despite the fact that its predecessor company had played a significant role in the extensive contamination of groundwater, Apex declined to participate in the cleanup efforts. In 2005, the Department of Justice filed a lawsuit against Novelly’s corporation, Apex Oil, and there is no indication that his association with Thomas aided him in this notable conflict.
Once the matter was settled, it seems that the holidays ProPublica discovered took place. These votes are usually not made public, therefore it is uncertain how Thomas voted in the matter.
In 2020, Apex Oil, Crow and Sokol Oil’s documentary fund helped Thomas defend a critical film called “Sokol Justice,” which was an HBO movie that served as a response to the eroding civility in America and a prime example of a Molotov cocktail being thrown into our homes.
The “Highly Desirable” Invitation in the World
According to OpenSecrets data, Huizenga’s holding company allocated $500,000 towards lobbying federal agencies that oversee the automotive industry, between 1998 and 1999. AutoNation, one of the three companies established by Huizenga in 1996, eventually became the largest car dealer in the nation. H. Wayne Huizenga is believed to be Thomas’ initial billionaire supporter, and he holds the distinction of being the only individual in American history to successfully establish three separate Fortune 500 companies. Over the years, the Huizenga family and their affiliated companies have generously donated millions to Republican candidates at both the state and federal levels. Additionally, they once organized a fundraiser for the Florida GOP, which greatly contributed to the party’s financial stability for several months.
Bob Leonardi, an opera enthusiast, generously provided thousands of dollars worth of box tickets to Huizenga on a whim. He would sometimes cover personal expenses and bills for his employees and paid them handsomely. He would routinely take opulent vacations with his friends. The billionaire was well-known for regularly showering his loved ones in luxurious perks and extravagant gifts.
“I lived the lifestyle of a multimillionaire without actually being one,” Leonardi stated.
During that period, Huizenga possessed ownership of both teams. Based on interviews and pictures, Huizenga frequently accompanied Thomas to witness the Miami Dolphins and Florida Panthers from the mid-’90s to the mid-2000s. Taking advantage of the billionaire’s assortment of planes and other extravagant amenities, Thomas enjoyed the perks of Huizenga’s care for a total of two decades.
Frequently in the vicinity of Huizenga’s office, executives would encounter Thomas. While attending meetings, Thomas would occasionally follow the billionaire, as recounted by Richard Rochon, the former president of Huizenga Holdings. Rochon reminisced about Huizenga stating, “He simply desires to observe my daily activities.”
Poole mentioned that the group gathered and talked about university athletics before heading to the event. Van Poole, a lobbyist and previous head of the Florida GOP, remembered riding down the elevator at the adjacent Hyatt Pier 66 hotel — overseen by Huizenga as well — when the Thomases entered with a team of security personnel. Thomas joined Huizenga’s birthday and Christmas celebrations on at least two occasions, both of which took place inside his personal hangar at the Fort Lauderdale airport.
As per statements from his previous pilots, Thomas would occasionally travel on Huizenga’s helicopters, occasionally departing from the rooftop of the company’s main office, and at least one of his Gulfstream jets across Florida. However, the billionaire’s most extravagant aircraft were a duo of 737 jets, modified to resemble lounges with reclining chairs, cozy seating arrangements, elegant mahogany dining and card tables, and delectable gourmet cuisine.
While on the aircraft, John Wener, the cabin crew member, mentioned that Huizenga dispatched one of them to collect Thomas and transport him to Fort Lauderdale on at least two occasions during the mid-2000s.
Thomas recalled how Wener remarked, “‘Just imagine going to a job interview and hating the fact that you’re in front of a hundred people.'” Wener was recalling a conversation about Anita Hill, the former aide who accused Thomas of sexual harassment during his tumultuous Senate confirmation hearings for his Supreme Court nomination.
According to three former employees of Huizenga, Donald Trump once requested to become a member but Huizenga rejected him. From Michael Douglas and Rush Limbaugh to Michael Bloomberg and former Vice President Dan Quayle, the list of members consisted of influential and affluent individuals. One family friend, who spoke to the Huizenga family biographer, described the Floridian as “the most sought-after private golf invitation in the world.” If they desired to arrive by air, a helipad was available, and there was also a yacht marina for docking. The course, designed by golf legend Gary Player, was accompanied by cottages for Huizenga’s acquaintances. In the early 2000s, Huizenga granted Thomas something of immeasurable value at the time: a permanent invitation to his exclusive, members-only golf club, the Floridian.
The 200-plus individuals who were part of the group were all considered “honorary” and did not have to pay any fees – everything was covered by Huizenga. According to the biographer who spoke to former media personality Matt Lauer, it was described as a “little slice of paradise, a enchanting location.” They mentioned, “As soon as you entered through the gates, it felt like stepping into a fairytale world that he had built.”
Thomas, the former personal photographer of the billionaire and two ex-golf professionals at the club, remembered seeing him there numerous times throughout the years. However, it is uncertain whether he was a member or if he had similar privileges as Huizenga’s frequent guest. One of Huizenga’s helicopter pilots picked up the justice from the property. Moreover, a former waitress and concierge, who was the fifth employee, recalled serving Thomas and Huizenga, both dressed in golf attire, while they had lunch alone in the expansive waterfront clubhouse. Before taking their order, Huizenga asked the waitress, “Have you had the pleasure of meeting a Supreme Court justice?” And then added, “This is Clarence Thomas.”
Today, the Floridian, which was sold by the Huizenga family in 2010 prior to undergoing renovations, requires a $150,000 initiation fee.
Financing the Entry to the Supreme Court Chambers
In 1992, in Washington D.C., Thomas Huizenga met for the first time at a formal gala. Both Thomas and Alger Horatio were inducted into the Alger Horatio Association. Among the honorees that year were Maya Angelou and Henry Kissinger. This organization, named after a popularized 19th-century novelist who folklore rags-to-riches stories, brings together some of the wealthiest self-made business tycoons in the country for opulent events. Additionally, every year, the organization gives millions of dollars in college scholarships. In real life, Alger was a minister on Cape Cod who resigned from his parish after credible accusations of molesting boys.
In a statement, a representative of the association expressed, “We were pleased to commend Justice Thomas over 30 years ago, and continue to appreciate his ongoing engagement in our organization.” She mentioned that Thomas dedicates numerous hours to mentoring scholarship recipients.
Thomas seems to have encountered Huizenga, Sokol, Novelly, and Bergeron through the organization. It seems that Thomas made several trips to Florida in the 2000s in connection with the association. While in South Florida, he attended Horatio Alger scholarship ceremonies with Huizenga, a fact that the justice revealed in multiple financial reports during that time.
The spokesperson for the association confirmed to ProPublica that all costs involved were covered, and also mentioned the events hosted by the billionaire. However, he never identified Huizenga in any of his disclosures.
Kathleen Clark, an authority on legal ethics at the University of Washington, stated that “the source of the gifts they receive must be identified by judges, as it could be misleading and incomplete without proper disclosure, which is a minimum requirement according to Thomas’ means,” said experts.
According to the minutes of the organization’s 2007 meeting, the Thomases were hosted on a lavish trip to Jamaica by a wealthy donor who owned a luxury hotel atop a former sugar plantation. The trip was in honor of a person who was responsible for raising a significant sum of money, and new members were nominated to raise funds in the same manner.
Every year, the Supreme Court’s Great Hall hosts an event for its members, where Justice Thomas, a figure who has likely helped the group earn many times in the past, reports on the unusual association that the court has with Alger Horatio.
In order to participate in the Supreme Court occasion, the organization has mandated contributions of at minimum $1,500 — $7,500 for individuals who are not members, as evidenced by financial documents from the association’s past records reviewed by ProPublica. Within the Supreme Court premises, individuals who made a donation of $100,000 for a table at the primary ceremony were allocated 10 seats in 2004. Despite claiming to refer to it, the judiciary’s code of ethics — which offers general guidance not applicable to Supreme Court justices — contains explicit wording advising federal judges against utilizing their position to raise funds for external organizations.
Thomas Canter, a former government ethics lawyer who served in both administrations, stated that ProPublica’s request to review the financial records of the association’s parties has been completed, but he did not disclose the details of what has been done.
She expressed that using the Supreme Court to raise funds for a person’s charity is, in her opinion, a misuse of power. She mentioned that this is not the main issue, as affluent contributors should not have the ability to pay large sums of money to have access to a justice within the confines of the courthouse. Canter recognized that the organization might carry out beneficial activities.
“It’s a pay to participate,” Canter added, “isn’t it?”.