Racketeering alleged in case against son of R&B legend Gladys Knight

The son of music legend Gladys Knight used her namesake chicken and waffle eateries as part of a racketeering scheme for at least 16 years, according to a civil suit filed by Clayton County prosecutors.

Shanga Hankerson, 39, diverted state income, sales and withholding taxes from his three Gladys Knight’s Chicken and Waffles restaurants to boost his income and acquire cash, real estate and other property, prosecutors said in the complaint.

But Steve Sadow, one of Hankerson’s attorneys, said his client is not guilty of a crime.

“It appears to me that this is a civil tax matter, not a criminal case,” said Sadow, lead co-council in the case.

Hankerson was released from Clayton County jail on $20,000 bond Wednesday afternoon, court records show, after he was booked into the jail early that morning. He faces two felony counts of theft by taking after racking up what Georgia Department of Revenue investigators said is a $1 million in unpaid taxes, penalties and interest.

Agents raided the restaurants and corporate headquarters Tuesday and filed the civil suit the same day. The filing asks a judge for permission to seize more than two dozen bank accounts, three automobiles and other property belonging to Hankerson and his businesses.

According to the suit, Hankerson and his businesses — Granite Foods, LLC, Cascade Foods, LLC and Rival Group, LLC — submitted fraudulent tax returns. More than $437,000 in sales and use taxes, plus some $126,000 in withholding taxes, went unpaid, it said.

Hankerson pocketed some $52,000 in state taxes during March and April alone, arrest warrants filed in Clayton County Magistrate Court state.

The popular restaurant, a tourist favorite known for southern cooking and long lines, continued to be closed Wednesday, and there was no news on the company’s website or social media accounts on when they plan to re-open. The most recent tweet from its Twitter handle, @GladysKnightChk, was from March 7, when the downtown restaurant re-opened after failing a health inspection. An employee reached by telephone at the corporate office said she could not provide further information.

Earlier this month, Knight herself visited the chain’s Peachtree Street location to reassure diners after the failed inspection.

Phones went unanswered Wednesday at its locations on Peachtree Street and Cascade Road in Atlanta and at Stonecrest Mall in Lithonia, and customers who arrived for lunch at the Peachtree Street restaurant found a handmade “closed” sign taped to the locked door.

Quinci Miller and Jasmine Johnson were visiting from Little Rock, Arkansas. “Every time I come to town, I eat there,” said Miller. “We’ll go somewhere else,” said Johnson.

Damian Lopez and three of his friends had driven from Naples, Florida for a quick tourist visit to Atlanta. Last year, Lopez tried to settle his fix for chicken and waffles at the famous restaurant but he was deterred by the long line. He had hoped that today he’d have better luck. “We are just trying to get some food,” Lopez said.

Especially surprised was Amoni Fields. “Today is supposed to be my first day of work,” said Fields, who was hired as a hostess. “I was hired Monday. I come back Wednesday, they are closed. That’s crazy,” she said.

“Why didn’t anyone call me?” she questioned aloud, adding that she had taken a bus and a train from her residence in Sandy Springs to arrive at her new place of employment.

Department of Revenue officials said they are working with Hankerson’s lawyers to re-open the businesses. A spokeswoman for Knight said after the raids that she has no role in the restaurants’ day-to-day operations, and the state agency said she is not a suspect in the case.

Staff writers Tammy Joyner and Jennifer Brett contributed to this report.

Reader Comments ...

Next Up in Local

College student from Cobb recovering at home after being shot in face
College student from Cobb recovering at home after being shot in face

Two people were shot in unrelated road-rage incidents in Cobb County early Saturday morning, according to Channel 2 Action News. The shootings happened within 30 minutes of each other, and the suspects in both cases have not been identified. One incident happened as a college student was driving home to Acworth from a Braves game, police said...
Buford board tries to close book on racist recording
Buford board tries to close book on racist recording

The Buford City Schools Board of Education tried to close a chapter in its recent rocky history, but a skeptical crowd at a meeting this week made it clear there are old wounds that need to heal. Those wounds were inflamed when an audio recording emerged last month in which someone said to be former Superintendent Geye Hamby used racial slurs repeatedly...
FBI crime stats: Violent offenses, property crimes declined in 2017
FBI crime stats: Violent offenses, property crimes declined in 2017

Violent and property crimes decreased nationally and in Atlanta in 2017, according to the FBI’s annual survey of crime in the United States. Preliminary national numbers portend a further decline this year, though not in Atlanta, where murders are up 20 percent from this time one year ago. The 2017 stats are welcome news after the previous two...
‘This was plain murder’: Family calls for criminal probe after jail death
‘This was plain murder’: Family calls for criminal probe after jail death

Family and friends of a Macon man who died in the Fulton County Jail earlier this month are calling on the district attorney's office to investigate and press criminal charges against the officers who pepper-sprayed and fired a Taser at the inmate. It’s still unclear exactly how Antonio May, a 32-year-old father of three, died Sept. 11, hours...
Braves give serious cash to two dozen charities throughout the South
Braves give serious cash to two dozen charities throughout the South

The Braves gave more than a loss to the Philadelphia Phillies on Thursday. The Atlanta Braves Foundation announced it’d be giving $315,000 in grants to 29 different charities throughout the ever-evolving “Braves Country.” Most are in metro Atlanta. The non-profit arm of the team raises raises money from things like a 50/50 raffle...
More Stories