Snellville mayor proclaims innocence while suspending self from office

Indicted Snellville Mayor Tom Witts voluntarily suspended himself from office Monday evening. The embattled leader also vowed to fight the massive criminal case against him and proclaimed his innocence.

Witts, 68, was not present during Monday night’s Snellville City Council meeting, the first gathering of the panel since he was indicted on dozens of felony charges. Those charges range from tax evasion to misuse of campaign funds. But City attorney Tony Powell read a statement in which Witts announced his self-suspension.

In the statement, Witts said he would soon “have the opportunity to assert my plea that I am not guilty of the charges filed against me” and that he didn’t want his legal battle to interfere with the city’s business.

“I am sorry I am unable to be with you tonight, but I will look forward to being with you again as soon as I can deal with the charges that have been asserted against me,” the statement said.

MORE: Snellville mayor’s indictment puts city’s shenanigans back in the spotlight

MORE: The internet does not like Gwinnett’s proposed new logo. Do officials? 

MORE: Gwinnett police will get their body cameras in coming months

Witts was indicted Sept. 7, more than four years after District Attorney Danny Porter launched an investigation. The indictment’s 66 counts include allegations of tax evasion, lying about candidacy documents about owing taxes, misusing campaign funds, and his company improperly doing business with the city.

Sixty-five of the charges are felonies. The only misdemeanor involves Witts allegedly using 2015 campaign money to pay for a subscription to a pornography website.

Witts turned himself in to the Gwinnett County jail on Sept. 14 and was released on a $20,000 signature bond.

Witts was already facing a possible suspension from Gov. Nathan Deal, who went public last week with plans to assemble a three-member panel to review the criminal case against the mayor. Such panels investigate cases against elected officials and make recommendations to the governor about whether suspensions from office are warranted.

The same section of Georgia law that enables Deal to appoint those panels allows Witts to voluntarily suspend himself from office instead, Powell said.

Witts was a Snellville city councilman from 2009 until 2015, when he resigned to make his run for mayor. He and his attorney, Patrick McDonough, have said little about the investigation and indictment.

The day Witts turned himself in, the city of Snellville issued a statement that both praised the mayor’s work and said it had cooperated with Porter’s investigation.

Snellville Mayor Pro Tem Barbara Bender, who will assume Witts’ duties in his absence, struck a similar chord Monday night when reading a statement attributed to the entire City Council. She praised Witts’ “hard work and dedication” and said she hoped the mayor would “be able to resolve his issues quickly.”

“I know this council is up to the tasks ahead of us,” Bender said. “We just want to assure the city of Snellvlle that this City Council pledges to continue to serve you to the best of our abilities.”

Reader Comments ...

Next Up in Local

Exclusive: Atlanta to reform bail system jailing some too poor to pay
Exclusive: Atlanta to reform bail system jailing some too poor to pay

Atlanta’s new mayor is pushing to eliminate the use of cash bail for poor defendants accused of low-level offenses. The move comes after The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported that some indigent people were spending months in the crowded Fulton County Jail for nuisance crimes like panhandling and disorderly conduct. The Southern Center for...
Suspect accused of killing man during meetup surrenders
Suspect accused of killing man during meetup surrenders

Nearly two months after a man was killed while selling his video game console during a meetup, authorities have arrested the suspected trigger man, East Point police said Monday.  Quantavious Poole, 21, was booked into the Fulton County jail Sunday after surrendering. Police say he shot and killed 24-year-old Larry Stewart, according to jail records...
City of Atlanta to conduct annual homeless count
City of Atlanta to conduct annual homeless count

The city of Atlanta Continuum of Care has launched the 2018 annual Point-In-Time Homeless Count this week through Jan. 28. The Atlanta PIT Homeless Count helps to identify vulnerable groups by conducting surveys that collect demographic characteristics, homeless experiences and history, and other vital information. The homeless count is crucial for...
Powder Springs Town Hall postponed to Jan. 30
Powder Springs Town Hall postponed to Jan. 30

Due to the icy weather, the Powder Springs Town Hall has been postponed from Jan. 18 to Jan. 30 - also at 7 p.m. at the Ford Center Reception Hall, 4181 Atlanta St., Powder Springs behind the Powder Springs Library. During that meeting, final plans on the new downtown park and parking are to be presented by Powder Springs officials. After the Jan....
Atlanta Motor Speedway rolling out new bar, hospitality event space 
Atlanta Motor Speedway rolling out new bar, hospitality event space 

The Atlanta Motor Speedway is adding a new bar and hospitality area to its grandstand to add more year-round options to visitors. The “Restart Bar” is being added to the Hampton destination about 20 rows above the track in the Earnhardt Grandstand, Speedway officials announced on Monday. The bar, which will open in late February...
More Stories