A closer look at the 66-count indictment against Snellville’s mayor

A Gwinnett County grand jury handed up a wide-ranging, 66-count indictment Thursday against Snellville Mayor Tom Witts.

The indictment includes 65 felonies and comes after years of investigation by state and local officials. It accuses Witts of tax evasion; lying on official documents about owing taxes when he ran for both city council and for mayor; improperly allowing his business to perform work for the city; and using campaign funds for personal expenses.

Most of the felonies included in the indictment carry the potential for five-year sentences, Gwinnett County District Attorney Danny Porter said. The only misdemeanor filed involves the mayor allegedly using 2015 campaign funds to purchase a six-month membership to a pornography website.

“I’ve never seen anything like this,” Porter said, “and I’ve never seen this sort of … broad array of entitlement.”

Reached Thursday afternoon, Witts said he hadn’t yet seen the indictment, which, among other things, accuses him of being delinquent on nearly $130,000 in taxes, purposefully underreporting his income and funneling more than half of his 2015 mayoral campaign funds to things like cruises and airline flights.

“I’m sure it’s the stuff that we’ve been going over and going through for the last couple years,” the mayor said, “and I hope that we can get enough information to satisfy the district attorney.”

He declined further comment. A message left for his attorney, Pat McDonough, was not immediately returned.

Porter said Witts will likely turn himself in at the Gwinnett County jail on Friday or Monday, Porter said. His status as mayor was not immediately clear, though it is unlikely he would be removed from office at this stage of the judicial process.

Snellville’s city manager did not immediately respond to an inquiry.

Witts, then a City Council member, first drew the eye of Porter in 2013, after a citizen watchdog filed an ethics complaint alleging Witts had lied on his 2009 city council candidacy affidavit about having paid his taxes. The issue resurfaced publicly in 2015 when Witts decided to run for mayor.

The lengthy investigation ratcheted up further in March 2016, when investigators from Porter’s office, the state Department of Revenue and the Georgia Bureau of Investigation raided Witts’ home and Tucker-based home renovation and construction business, Georgia Property Restoration.

A month later, Porter told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution that his investigation suggested Witts owed tens of thousands of dollars in state taxes and had, for at least two years, withheld state taxes from his employees’ paychecks without then sending the funds to the state.

Thursday’s 26-page indictment includes similar allegations and many more.

The five counts of tax evasion stem from the state Department of Revenue allegations that Witts “consistently underreported income and overreported deductions” on tax returns filed for the five years starting in 2011, Porter said. Ten counts total of false statements and false swearing are tied to Witts’ alleged failure to address his tax delinquency and lying about it while filling out candidacy affidavits or taking oaths of office.

“We believe the evidence would show that he was showed notification of his delinquencies, that he was given the opportunity to make or enter into a payment plan, and other than a $300 payment on one of the deficiency notice, he’s made no effort to pay the taxes,” Porter said.

The indictment’s 17 counts of theft by conversion resulted from Witts using about 53 percent of his 2015 mayoral campaign funds, which amounted to a couple thousand dollars, on personal purchases, Porter said. Among those were a Caribbean cruise, four plane tickets and a subscription to a website called adult-share.net.

The indictment also included four counts of “sale of property to political subdivision by officer or employee.” Those are related to Witts’ company purportedly performing at least four jobs for the city. Those reportedly included building display cases and installing windows at City Hall.

In at least one case, Porter said, other companies had submitted bids to the city to do the work before “Witts saw them and offered to undercut the bids.” In another case, a Witts employee purporting to be an independent contractor performed work for the city — but Witts later cashed the check, Porter said.

Porter said he didn’t believe the city itself committed any criminal violations in its alleged dealings with Witts’ company.

The city declined Thursday afternoon to comment on Witts’ indictment.

“Not having seen or having had any opportunity to review the pertinent facts involved in this action by the District Attorney’s Office, it is far too premature for the City to comment on the situation,” spokesman Brian Arrington wrote in an email.

Snellville’s city attorney did not immediately respond to an inquiry Thursday.

Kelly Kautz, Witts’ predecesor as mayor and one of his chief political rivals during her time in office, said she was “saddened” by the investigation.

“This has just continued to be a black mark against the city of Snellville,” she said.


The AJC's Tyler Estep keeps you updated on the latest happenings in Gwinnett County government and politics. You'll find more on myAJC.com, including these stories: 

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