Federal Criminal Charges Against Public Officials: U.S. Attorney Announces Indictment Naming State Legislator

Federal Criminal Charges were announced yesterday here in Atlanta by the U.S. Attorney. The feds have indicted a well-known State legislator, Representative Tyrone Brooks. According to the indictment, Representative Brooks committed mail fraud, wire fraud, and tax crimes. The grand jury returned a 30-count indictment which charges that, from the mid-1990s through 2012, Brooks solicited contributions from individuals and corporate donors to combat illiteracy and fund other charitable causes, but then used the money to pay personal expenses for himself and his family.

It seems there are three basic sets of crimes alleged in the indictment. First, there are two separate supposed frauds, followed by allegations that Representative Brooks violated the tax laws.

The first of the two fraud schemes supposedly involves a tax-exempt charity, Universal Humanities, Inc., that Brooks established in the early 1990s. The grand jury alleges that Brooks solicited contributions from corporate and individual donors purportedly to combat illiteracy in disadvantaged communities in Georgia and across the southeastern United States, eventually raising more than $780,000. The feds claim that Representative Brooks made specific false representations about the work that Universal Humanities was doing and how the donated funds would be used. Prosecutors also contend that in reality, Brooks did not use the donations to promote and address literacy in Georgia or elsewhere. Instead, the indictment alleges that Brooks used the money to pay personal expenses for himself and members of his family.

The second fraud scheme alleged involved the organization Georgia Association of Black Elected officials (GABEO). The indictment alleges that Brooks diverted charitable donations he solicited on behalf of GABEO and used much of the money to pay personal expenses for himself and his family.

The indictment alleges that Brooks solicited contributions to GABEO from corporations, organizations and individuals. The feds contend that Brooks secretly opened a second GABEO bank account, and set himself up as the sole signatory on this account, and had the account statements sent to his address rather than the address of the GABEO Treasurer. Brooks then deposited the donations he solicited on behalf of GABEO into this undisclosed account, and used much of these funds to pay personal expenses for himself and his relatives.

Finally, the indictment charges that Brooks underreported his income to the IRS for the years 2007 through 2011. Prosecutors contend that Representative Brooks misappropriated of hundreds of thousands of dollars through the two fraud schemes concerning Universal Humanities and GABEO, yet his tax returns for the years between 2008 through 2011 falsely reported income of only approximately $35,000 annually.

This indictment is like so many we have seen when we have represented public officials who face federal criminal charges. While often the defense team can show there was no fraud, or at least some confusion as to the fraud charges, it is exceedingly difficult to defend the tax charges when they come up with specific expenditures that clearly show the Defendant had income, yet that same income never shows up on the Defendant’s tax return. We have represented a number of public officials facing similar charges, and look forward to seeing how the defense responds to these allegations.