Former supervisor in local tax office charged with committing fraud while waiting to report to federal prison on bribery and blackmail charges
For Immediate Release
U.S. Attorney's Office, Northern District of Georgia
ATLANTA - Gerald D. Harris, a former supervisor in DeKalb County’s Tax Commissioner’s Office, has been charged with wire fraud for falsely claiming that he could register a stolen vehicle by bribing an employee in the tax office.
“In 2020, Harris pleaded guilty to bribery and blackmail for accepting cash to unlawfully register vehicles and for extorting one of the individuals who had paid him bribe money,” said U.S. Attorney Ryan K. Buchanan. “Based on the COVID-19 pandemic, the sentencing judge compassionately gave Harris almost six months to report to prison. Rather than use that time to arrange his affairs – in a brazen display of audacity, Harris allegedly executed a separate wire fraud scheme.”
“Harris clearly had no remorse after his bribery and blackmail conviction, as he didn’t skip a beat in allegedly implementing a separate wire fraud scheme immediately after he was sentenced,” said Keri Farley, Special Agent in Charge of FBI Atlanta. “Hopefully, this charge will send the message that the FBI takes fraud schemes very seriously and just because you have been convicted of one crime does not mean that you are immune from further charges.”
“Unfortunately, Harris did not learn from his previous bad conduct. Instead of using the court's grace to better his situation, he brazenly used that time to steal money. Hopefully, this indictment will send a clear message that this conduct will not be tolerated,” DeKalb County District Attorney Sherry Boston.
“The Georgia Department of Revenue maintains a close working partnership with all the county Tax Commissioners offices as they serve as title and registration agents for the state. We find it unacceptable and unfortunate that any individual would violate the trust provided them to perform their official duties. The Agency is committed to assisting with any investigation into reported violations of this trust,” said Frank O'Connell, Commissioner, Georgia Department of Revenue.
According to U.S. Attorney Buchanan, the charges, and other information presented in court: The DeKalb County Tax Commissioner’s Office (the “Tax Commissioner’s Office”) is responsible for the billing and collection of property taxes. The Motor Vehicle Division of the Tax Commissioner’s Office handles all aspects of motor vehicle registrations, including: (a) managing the collection of motor vehicle taxes; (b) issuing vehicle tags and titles; and (c) processing vehicle registration renewals for citizens and businesses located in the county.
From July 2017 to November 2019, Harris served as the Supervisor of Tax Tag Clerks for the Tax Commissioner’s Office. Harris unlawfully exploited his position by accepting more than $35,000 bribe payments from customers to unlawfully register vehicles or renew vehicle registrations.
After being fired from the Tax Commissioner’s Office, Harris also attempted to blackmail one of the individuals who had been paying him bribe money. In December 2019, Harris sent a series of text messages to the individual stating that he was under investigation by the FBI; that the FBI had a video of Harris with the individual; that “[a]ll of us can be in trouble”; that Harris needed to know “how much” money he would receive to not share this information to the FBI; and that Harris was “not going to prison empty handed. It’s that simple.”
Based on this conduct, the U.S. Attorney charged Harris with bribery and blackmail via a criminal information. Harris pleaded guilty to both charges and, on November 10, 2020, received a sentence of two years in prison. The Court gave Harris approximately six months to report to prison in consideration of safety protocols resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic.
In early March 2021, while awaiting his report to federal prison, Harris met an individual (“Person 1”). Even though Harris had been terminated from his position with the Tax Commissioner’s Office, Harris claimed that he had the key to the office and that he ran the office. Harris also falsely claimed to Person 1 that in exchange for a payment of between $1,200 and $1,500 per vehicle Harris could obtain vehicle tags for stolen vehicles, and that for a payment of $4,000 Harris could obtain a Commercial Driver’s License for Person 1.
On March 22, 2021, Person 1 asked Harris about obtaining a tag for a vehicle, even though Person 1 did not have the vehicle’s title or any other documentation required to register the vehicle. In response, Harris falsely stated that he knew a woman who could register the vehicle if Person 1 paid the woman a $1,000 bribe payment.
On March 23, 2021, Harris again falsely claimed to Person 1 that the woman wanted a $1,000 bribe payment to register the vehicle. As a result, Person 1 gave Harris $1,000 in cash. But Harris then kept the $1,000 in cash, stopped all communications with Person 1, and never obtained a vehicle tag for Person 1.
Based on this conduct, on December 13, 2022, a federal grand jury charged Harris, 54, of Union City, Georgia, with three counts of wire fraud. Members of the public are reminded that the indictment only contains charges. The defendant is presumed innocent of the charges and it will be the United States’ burden to prove the defendant’s guilt beyond a reasonable doubt at trial.
The Federal Bureau of Investigation, DeKalb County District Attorney’s Office, and Georgia Department of Revenue are investigating this case.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Jeffrey W. Davis is prosecuting the case. Assistant U.S. Attorney Nicholas Hartigan previously prosecuted this 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 U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Northern District of Georgia is http://www.justice.gov/usao-ndga.
Updated December 16, 2022