Former State Representative Tyrone Brooks, Sr., Pleads Guilty to Fraud and Tax Charges
ATLANTA - Tyrone Brooks, Sr., has pleaded guilty to charges that he misappropriated almost $1 million in charitable funds from Universal Humanities, a charity he founded in 1990, and the Georgia Association of Black Elected Officials (GABEO). 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.
“Through two charitable organizations he led, Representative Brooks raised over one million dollars for the causes of illiteracy, crime and voter disenfranchisement that plague our disadvantaged communities, especially ones in poor and rural areas,” said Acting U.S. Attorney John Horn. “Sadly, Representative Brooks misappropriated nearly all of the money to pay personal expenses for himself and his family. By diverting these funds, he deprived those communities from receiving the literacy training and other assistance that they so desperately needed.”
J. Britt Johnson, Special Agent in Charge, FBI Atlanta Field Office, stated: “People have a right to expect honesty and integrity from their elected officials. The FBI’s Public Corruption program plays a vital role in ensuring that any such departures from the expected honesty and integrity of public officials that result in violations of the law will be investigated. The FBI launched its investigation in this matter based on information and facts that indicated that a State elected official was using undue influence for personal gain. The FBI, in conjunction with IRS-CI, followed those facts throughout this investigation, which led to this guilty plea of former State Representative Tyrone Brooks.”
“Mr. Brooks exploited his position as representative and director of Universal Humanities and GABEO for his own personal financial gain, which came at the expense of the organizations and people he was trusted to serve,” stated Special Agent in Charge, Veronica F. Hyman-Pillot, IRS Criminal Investigation. “In addition, Brooks stole money from the American taxpayers by failing to report the income and pay taxes on the money he diverted.”
According to Acting U.S. Attorney Horn, the charges and other information presented in court:
Universal Humanities Scheme
The government presented evidence at the plea hearing that from at least 1995 through 2012, Brooks solicited contributions for Universal Humanities from corporate and individual donors purportedly to combat illiteracy in disadvantaged communities in Georgia and across the southeastern United States, eventually raising more than $800,000. Donors included the Coca-Cola Company, Georgia Pacific Company, Northside Hospital, and others who gave smaller amounts. Brooks made specific false representations in his written solicitations about the work that Universal Humanities was doing to combat illiteracy; he described how the donated funds would be used, claiming that Universal Humanities had established literacy programs, conducted workshops, and tutored and mentored students. He also falsely claimed that Universal Humanities used a staff and operated under the leadership of a board of directors.
In reality, Brooks did not use the donations to promote and address literacy in Georgia or elsewhere, or to retain a staff, occupy office space, fund workshops, hire instructors, or conduct programs attended by students. Instead, Brooks used the money to pay personal expenses for himself and members of his family, including home repairs, furniture, lawn service, life insurance, entertainment, personal credit card expenses, utility bills, food and clothing, dry cleaning, electronic equipment, jewelry, and payments on personal loans, among other personal expenses.
Brooks generally accomplished the diversion of funds by depositing the solicited donations into a bank account that he established in the name of Universal Humanities, then almost immediately transferring the funds to a personal account, from which he paid personal expenses. At times, Brooks paid personal expenses directly from the Universal Humanities account.
Contrary to Brooks’ representations to donors, Universal Humanities never had a functioning board of directors. The individuals listed on the solicitations and incorporation documents were unaware that Brooks had identified them as Universal Humanities board members, and most had never even heard of the organization.
Brooks represented in a 1999 solicitation that Universal Humanities had been “so successful” in Georgia that it was expanding its programs to other states in the Southeast, and expected to have a projected budget of $500,000. In truth, Universal Humanities did not have an operational literacy program inside or outside of Georgia, nor did it have a projected budget of $500,000.
Brooks represented that Universal Humanities’ literacy program, which Brooks called “Visions of Literacy,” consisted of a host of “outlets” created to increase literacy and included activities such as seminars, workshops, tutoring, mentoring, and rallies. Brooks further claimed that Universal Humanities and its “staff had over 40 years’ experience in assisting U.S. communities through a variety of efforts,” and that 10,000 people would be the direct beneficiaries of the literacy program. In fact, Universal Humanities and Brooks did not operate a functional literacy program, did not host the literacy activities described in the solicitation, or did not have a staff.
Brooks represented in a 2011 solicitation that the Visions of Literacy program conducted monthly workshops, seminars, and advocacy outreach activities, and that the solicited funds would be used to hire retired teachers and administrators as “educational consultants” to gain targeted results. Instead, Brooks spent the funds donated in response to this solicitation on payments for personal credit card charges, personal loan payments, utility bills, and a $500 check to a family member as a Christmas gift.
Unbeknownst to GABEO, Brooks represented in a 2011 solicitation that GABEO was a “sister organization” to Universal Humanities and that GABEO was committed to the “growth and advancement of Universal Humanities.” Brooks falsely claimed that GABEO members spoke in public forums to implement and promote Universal Humanities’ programs; that GABEO members taught at Universal Humanities meetings and classes “alongside” Universal Humanities community organizers; and that GABEO members served on the Universal Humanities’ board of directors, steering committee, fundraising committee, and program management committees, though the purported committees were nonexistent.
As a result of Brooks’ misappropriation, the intended beneficiaries of the donated funds did not receive the needed literacy training or assistance.
The government presented evidence at the plea hearing that Brooks also diverted charitable donations he solicited on behalf of GABEO and used much of the money to pay personal expenses for himself and his family. GABEO is an organization of state, county, and municipal elected officials which promotes crime prevention, voter registration, literacy and economic empowerment initiatives.
Brooks solicited contributions for GABEO from corporations, organizations and individuals. When Brooks was elected as GABEO’s President in 1993, the organization already maintained an official bank account at a local bank. This account was administered by GABEO’s Treasurer, and disbursements required two signatures by GABEO Board members. In December 1997, Brooks secretly opened a second GABEO bank account at a different bank. Brooks 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 that 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.
Between 2002 and 2012, businesses, civic, religious groups and individuals contributed approximately $300,000 to GABEO through Brooks, which he then deposited into the undisclosed GABEO account. Brooks misappropriated donations that he solicited on behalf of GABEO from corporations, local teacher unions, small business owners, and individual donors – all of whom relied on Brooks’ assurances that the contributions were intended to further GABEO’s community activities. The GABEO Board was unaware of this activity and did not approve these transactions.
Brooks misappropriated the GABEO funds in much the same manner as the Universal Humanities funds. Brooks deposited funds he solicited on behalf of GABEO into the undisclosed GABEO account, then transferred the funds to his personal account, from which he paid his personal expenses. While Brooks utilized some of the GABEO donations to pay expenses related to GABEO’s annual meetings, he utilized much of the GABEO funds for personal expenses.
During the time that Brooks acted as GABEO’s President, a variety of charitable groups, companies and individuals made donations to GABEO through Brooks. These donors relied on Brooks’ representations that GABEO would use the contributions to defray the costs of the organization’s annual meetings and convention, and to support GABEO’s programs.
Brooks made specific false representations to donors about how the solicited funds would be used, claiming that the funds would be used to cover the expenses of annual GABEO meetings, support GABEO crime prevention and child hunger initiatives, voter registration, felon rehabilitation initiatives, and literacy programs. Donors included Coca Cola, Georgia Power, the International Brotherhood of Teamsters and others. Instead, Brooks deposited these funds into the undisclosed GABEO account that he controlled and then transferred the money to his personal account, ultimately using most of the contributions to pay personal expenses.
By misappropriating GABEO donations for his personal use, Brooks benefitted himself at the expense of both GABEO and the communities most in need of the literacy, crime prevention and voter registration programs for which the funds were intended.
False Tax Returns Charges
Finally, Brooks pleaded guilty to tax fraud and, in so doing, he admitted he substantially underreported his income to the IRS for the 2011 tax year. Despite Brooks’ misappropriation of Universal Humanities and GABEO funds, his tax return for the 2011 tax year falsely reported a salary of only approximately $35,000 annually.
Brooks, 68, of Atlanta, Georgia, pleaded nolo contendere guilty to five counts of mail and wire fraud and fully admitted his guilt as to one count of tax fraud.
This case is being investigated by Special Agents of the Federal Bureau of Investigation and Internal Revenue Service.
Assistant United States Attorneys Kurt R. Erskine, Richard S. Moultrie, Jr. and Kamal Ghali are prosecuting the case.
For further information please contact the U.S. Attorney’s Public Affairs Office at USAGAN.PressEmails@usdoj.gov or (404) 581-6016. The Internet address for the home page for the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Northern District of Georgia Atlanta Division is http://www.justice.gov/usao/gan/.