Top Georgia Officials Disregarded Professional Responsibilities, New Report Says

Georgia State Capitol, Atlanta

 

Members of the Georgia Department of Revenue (DOR) abused their powers and violated ethical and regulatory policies, according to a report that the Office of the State Inspector General (OIG) published this week.

Georgia officials are supposed to distribute civil asset forfeiture funds to the state treasury. Officials with the DOR’s Office of Special Investigations (OSI) broke state law when they didn’t remit state asset forfeiture funds to the state general fund. Former OSI Director Joshua Waites failed to properly remit $5.3 million collected via state asset forfeiture between July 1, 2015 to March 11, 2020, the date of Waites’ termination from his position, the report said.

“Instead, DOR OSI spent approximately $3,129,162.40 on what DOR OSI deemed ‘proper prosecutorial purposes.’ These purchases included reimbursement for work-related travel expenses, software licenses for forensic computer equipment, and payments to financial institutions for records produced in response to legal process. However, several expenditures were, at best, questionable and would likely be deemed wasteful and unnecessary,” according to the DOR report.

“These purchases included, but were not limited to, $6,660 on Fitbit devices for DOR personnel, approximately $40,000 on fitness equipment, approximately $321,000 for office furniture, and approximately $800,000 on vehicles. Because each purchase made by DOR OSI using civil asset forfeiture funds was unlawful, OIG did not conduct a full audit of all expenditures. As of August 14, 2020, after OIG’s recommendation, DOR remitted the remaining funds in the DOR state asset forfeiture account, $2,173,786.97, to the Office of the State Treasurer.”

This misdirection of funds “did not stem from a simple misunderstanding of the law,” the report said.

“OIG discovered that Director Waites repeatedly disregarded legal advice provided by the Prosecuting Attorneys’ Council of Georgia (PAC), and intentionally misled DOR leadership regarding DOR OSI’s ability to collect and spend civil asset forfeiture money,” according to the report.

“DOR leadership relied on these misrepresentations and believed the expenditures were appropriate and approved by PAC until informed otherwise in March 2020.”

State Inspector General Scott McAfee said in a press release that OIG’s investigation “revealed an office culture at the highest levels of leadership within OSI that disregarded any semblance of their professional responsibilities.”

“While we are encouraged to see that DOR has already begun the difficult process of repairing the reputation of the OSI division and regaining the trust of this state, unfortunately the misused money highlighted here is something taxpayers will never see returned in full,” McAfee said.

“Regardless, this report should remind state employees that they will be held accountable if they choose to deliberately ignore the laws and regulations of this state. OIG will continue to provide oversight over executive branch agencies and enforce a high ethical standard.”

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Chris Butler is an investigative journalist at The Tennessee Star. Follow Chris on Facebook. Email tips to [email protected]
Photo “Georgia Capitol” by Autiger. CC BY-SA 2.0.

 

 

 

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