Suspension from office a possibility for indicted Snellville mayor

Snellville Mayor Tom Witts turned himself in at the Gwinnett County jail Thursday afternoon, one week after a grand jury returned a 66-count indictment against him.

He will now wait to be arraigned — and for Gov. Nathan Deal to appoint a panel that will help decide if the tax evasion, theft and other charges filed against him are enough to warrant a suspension from office.

Witts, 68, was booked into jail at around 12:30 p.m. and released less than half an hour later on a $20,000 signature bond. Gwinnett County District Attorney Danny Porter, who started investigating Witts in 2013, had given the mayor until the end of the day Friday to turn himself in.

Witts and his attorney, Pat McDonough, both balked when asked for comment while walking out of the jail.

“I don’t really have anything to say,” the mayor told Channel 2 Action News.

The indictment returned against Witts last week accuses him of numerous crimes, including 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 like cruises and airline tickets.

Sixty-five of the charges are felonies. The only misdemeanor charge accuses Witts of using 2015 campaign money to purchase a six-month membership on a pornography website.

Witts, a former city councilman, was elected as mayor in 2015.

After Witts turned himself in, Snellville City Manager Butch Sanders released a 111-word statement that both praised the mayor’s work and said the city had cooperated with the district attorney’s investigation.

“… We as a city and a community have come a long way,” Sanders’ statement said, in part.

“We have added to our park system, greatly improved sanitation services, grown public confidence in our police services in the face of difficult nationwide issues and made a great start on building a Towne Center. With the public’s support, we will carry these efforts forward as the mayor addresses his issues and we will keep Tom and [wife] Carol in our thoughts and prayers.”

Following a Thursday afternoon press conference about damage from Tropical Storm Irma, Gov. Nathan Deal said he planned to appoint a three-person panel to review Witts’ case and make a recommendation on potential actions to be taken. Under state law, Deal can suspend local elected officials that have been indicted on felony charges for limited periods of time.

The panel likely will be appointed “by next week” and, by law, will include Attorney General Chris Carr and two mayors from elsewhere in the state, Deal said.

“It’s always disappointing when you have these kind of events occur,” Deal said.

—Staff writer Greg Bluestein contributed to this article

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