ATLANTA – Gerald D. Harris, a former supervisor in DeKalb County’s Tax Commissioner’s Office, allegedly accepted bribe payments from customers to register unlawfully vehicles and then tried to blackmail a bribe payer by threatening to inform on her to the FBI.
“Harris traded his integrity for money and betrayed the trust of the citizens of DeKalb County by allegedly accepting bribe payments,” said U.S. Attorney Byung J. “BJay” Pak. “Then, in an audacious display of bravado, Harris attempted to blackmail one of those bribe payers.”
“The FBI stands firm with its partners in law enforcement to expose public officials who choose their own financial interest over the taxpayers they serve,” said Chris Hacker, Special Agent in Charge of FBI Atlanta. “The crimes Harris is charged with erode the public’s trust in government and we will continue to vigorously pursue any public official who chooses to violate that trust.”
“Gerald Harris not only abused his position of public trust for his own gain, but also attempted to extort another involved in the scheme. Such actions by a public official will not be tolerated. The DeKalb County District Attorney’s Office will continue to support its law enforcement partners, as well as the DeKalb County Tax Commissioner’s Office, in ensuring Harris is held fully accountable for these crimes,” said DeKalb County District Attorney Sherry Boston.
“Taking bribes to illegally register vehicles is an egregious crime that compromises the public’s trust of public servants throughout all levels of government,” stated Department of Revenue Commissioner David Curry. “Bad actors such as Mr. Harris have no place in public service.”
“I am pleased to see that charges have been brought in this case. Since our staff uncovered this illegal activity, we’ve continued to work closely with the authorities for months to assist in the investigation of Mr. Harris. Protecting the integrity of our operation and the interest of DeKalb taxpayers is our top priority. We remain committed to reviewing our procedures and training our staff to detect fraudulent activity and improper behavior. On behalf of DeKalb taxpayers, we thank law enforcement for working quickly and collaboratively to bring this case to justice,” said DeKalb County Tax Commissioner Irvin J. Johnson.
According to U.S. Attorney Pak, the charges, and other information presented in court: The DeKalb County Tax Commissioner’s Office was an agency of DeKalb County, Georgia responsible for the billing and collection of property taxes, processing of homestead exemptions, and collecting delinquent taxes. In addition, the Motor Vehicle Division of the DeKalb County Tax Commissioner’s Office handled 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 DeKalb County.
From July 2017 to November 2019, Harris served as the Supervisor of Tax Tag Clerks for the DeKalb County Tax Commissioner’s Office. In that position, Harris oversaw the Tax Commissioner’s North Office’s clerks who processed motor vehicle registrations and renewals for customers.
From approximately mid-2018 to November 2019, Harris accepted bribe payments from customers to unlawfully register vehicles or renew vehicle registrations. For example, Harris accepted bribe payments:
- To register vehicles to individuals who did not have Georgia driver’s licenses or identification cards as required, typically in exchange for $200 per vehicle;
- To register vehicles that did not have the required accompanying documentation (such as: titles or Forms MV-1 title/tag application), typically in exchange for $500 to $1,000 per vehicle; and
- To renew vehicles that had not passed emissions tests by falsely entering that the vehicles had emissions exemptions, typically in exchange for $100 per vehicle.
In total, Harris accepted at least $30,000 in bribe payments.
In addition to accepting bribe payments, Harris also attempted to blackmail one of the individuals who had been paying him bribe money. On November 18, 2019, DeKalb County Tax Commissioner’s Office fired Harris for accepting bribe payments (as fully detailed above). On the same date, Harris admitted to the FBI that he had accepted more than $30,000 in bribe payments in exchange for illegally registering/renewing vehicles for several people, including a person identified as Individual-1.
On December 12, 2019, Harris met with Individual-1 at an Atlanta, Georgia, gas station. During the meeting, Individual-1 (who did not know that Harris had been fired) gave Harris registration documentation so that Harris could register four vehicles. Indvidual-1 gave Harris checks and cash to cover the costs of the required fees and taxes for each vehicle. Given that Harris no longer worked for the DeKalb County Tax Commissioner’s Office, Harris obviously could not register the four vehicles for Individual-1. Nevertheless, Harris accepted and kept the money from Individual-1.
Then on December 17, 2019, Individual-1 sent a series of text messages to Harris requesting that Harris return the registration documentation and money. On December 17 and 18, 2019, Harris sent a series of text messages to Individual-1 where Harris stated that: (a) he was under investigation by the FBI, (b) the FBI has a video of Harris and Individual-1 meeting, (c) “[a]ll of us can be in trouble,” (d) Harris needed to know “how much” money will he be paid not to give information to the FBI, and (e) Harris is “not going to prison empty handed. It’s that simple.”
Based on the conduct set forth above, the U.S. Attorney charged Gerald D. Harris, 51, of Fulton County, Georgia, in a criminal information with one count each of federal program bribery and blackmail. Notably, defendants who are charged via a criminal information, typically plead guilty shortly after being arraigned.
The FBI, DeKalb County District Attorney’s Office, Georgia Department of Revenue, and DeKalb County Tax Commissioner’s Office are investigating this case.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Jeffrey W. Davis, Chief of the Public Integrity and Special Matters Section, and Assistant U.S. Attorney Nicholas Hartigan are prosecuting the case.