- Tyler Estep The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
Tom Witts — the Snellville mayor that’s been both indicted and suspended from office — has entered a not guilty plea in the wide-ranging criminal case against him.
In a document filed late last week, Witts waived the arraignment originally scheduled for Monday morning and entered his plea of not guilty. Witts also hired a new attorney to defend him in a case that includes allegations of tax evasion and misuse of campaign funds.
“It is early in the process and I understand there are a great deal of documents to review that I currently do not have,” defense attorney Kenneth B. Hodges wrote in an email Monday. “I have spoken with a tax law firm who has reviewed the tax documents and they report that Tom’s actions were not criminal. I can’t comment further until I have time to review the documents more thoroughly myself.”
Witts had been represented by attorney Pat McDonough throughout much of the years-long investigation conducted by Gwinnett County District Attorney Danny Porter and state and federal officials.
Witts, a former Snellville city councilman who was elected mayor in 2015, was indicted on Sept. 7. The 66-count document includes allegations of tax evasion, lying on candidacy affidavits about owing taxes, misusing campaign funds and allowing his company, Georgia Property Restoration, to improperly do business with Snellville while he was in office.
Of the charges in the indictment, 65 are felonies. The only misdemeanor involves Witts allegedly using 2015 campaign money to pay for a subscription to a pornography website. He is also accused of using campaign funds for a Caribbean cruise and airline flights.
The five counts of tax evasion stem from the state Department of Revenue’s allegations that Witts “consistently under-reported income and over-reported deductions” on tax returns filed for the five years starting in 2011. 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.
Witts is also accused of allowing his company to perform at least four jobs for the city of Snellville. Those reportedly included building display cases and installing windows at City Hall.
In at least one case, other companies had submitted bids to the city to do the work before “Witts saw them and offered to undercut the bids,” Porter, the district attorney, previously said.
Witts, who turned himself in to the Gwinnett County jail on Sept. 14 and was released on a $20,000 signature bond, has maintained his innocence. He voluntarily suspended himself from office on Sept. 25, saying he needed to focus on his defense.
Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal handed down an official suspension, which will be in effect until Witts’ criminal case is resolved, about two weeks later.
Mayor Pro Tem Barbara Bender has taken over mayoral duties in Witts’ absence.
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