ATLANTA – Gerald D. Harris, a former supervisor in the DeKalb County Tax Commissioner’s Office, has pleaded guilty to accepting bribe payments from customers to unlawfully register vehicles and then trying to blackmail a bribe payer by threatening to inform on her to the FBI.
“By repeatedly accepting bribe payments, Harris peddled his honor for money and in doing so sold out the citizens of DeKalb County – sometimes for as little as $100 per car,” said U.S. Attorney Byung J. “BJay” Pak. “By then attempting to blackmail one of bribe payers, Harris showed his seemingly limitless greed.”
“Harris’s blatant disregard for the law and abuse of his position help to erode the public’s trust in government,” said Chris Hacker, Special Agent in Charge of FBI Atlanta. “We continually work hard with our partners in law enforcement to regain that trust by seeking justice for those who choose their own financial interest over the taxpayers they serve.”
“I applaud the swift effort of the U.S. Attorney’s Office, the FBI and other law enforcement agencies in bringing this case to a quick resolve. The DeKalb County Tax Commissioner’s Office remains committed to safeguarding the trust of DeKalb’s taxpayers and weeding out individuals who act unlawfully in any way,” 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 is 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 – 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 is alleged to have accept 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 thousands 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, on February 28, 2020, 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. Harris pleaded guilty to both counts.
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.
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.