As Britt Moves Forward with Guilty Plea, Judge Sentences Associate

After former Statesboro businessman and city councilman Will Britt appeared before a federal judge Wednesday morning, an associate of Britt’s was sentenced for his role in the same scheme. That sentencing hearing shed light on the seriousness of the charges

The U.S. Attorney’s Office filed a statement of General Allegations in federal court on March 2, 2022. In it, the government outlined some of the components of its case against Britt, which detail how Britt failed to report sources of income on his tax returns.

Specifically, the federal government alleged Britt acted willingly and unlawfully when he: 

  • Provided false information to an accountant for the preparation of tax returns regarding income earned by Dillinger’s, The Milltown Groove, and Bluewater Saloon;
  • Failed to inform his account of cash distributions that he received from The Milltown Groove, Dillinger’s, Bluewater Saloon, The Gin, Flip Flops, Rude Rudy’s, Rum Runners, and Capital City and 119 Chops;
  • Caused a false tax return to be filed, which stipulated that Britt and his wife earned a collective $36,845 in 2014. 

The USA’s office also filed a penalty certification and a notice of a plea agreement, announcing a deal had been reached with Britt, his attorney, and the government.

Britt’s Hearing

Britt appeared before Chief Judge J. Randall Hall Wednesday for a Guilty Plea Hearing at the federal courthouse in Statesboro. The courtroom was mostly empty as Britt stood before Hall with his attorney, Michael Classens, with the exception of Britt’s wife and two other supporters, two representatives from the media, and agents with the Federal Bureau of Investigation. Assistant Chief David Zisserson and Trial Attorney Casey Smith of the Tax Division represented the government.

During the hearing, Britt acknowledged the consequences of entering a guilty plea, including his waiver of the right to a jury trial, his resolution of the case before presentment to a grand jury, and his waiver of his right to appeal. Judge Hall then advised Britt of his rights before placing him under oath and asking him a series of questions about his current living situation, employment status, and the facts of the case.

Britt effectively admitted to his ownership in a number of alcohol establishments listed in the document, which Britt had, for years, denied. Those establishments include: 

  • The Milltown Groove bar in Valdosta, Georgia;
  • Bluewater Saloon bar in Valdosta, Georgia;
  • Flip Flops bar in Valdosta, Georgia;
  • Dillinger’s bar in Americus, Georgia, which was operated under the corporation ‘Title Town Nightlife LLC’ as early as July 3, 2012;
  • The Gin bar in Tifton, Georgia;
  • BGRG, Inc. formed in September 2010 and did business as Capital City and 119 Chops, a bar and restaurant, respectively, in Milledgeville, Georgia;
  • Chrysha, Inc. was formed on April 3, 2002 to do business as Rum Runners bar in Statesboro, Georgia;
  • Rude Rudy’s LLC formed on January 30, 2007 to operate “Rude Rudy’s” bar in Statesboro, Georgia;

“The true owners of the establishments described above in paragraphs…, including the Defendant, failed to report to the IRS all of the income they received from the businesses. The Defendant, along with the other true owners of the establishments, shared in the profits generated by the businesses’ operations by disbursing cash to the partners in accordance with their ownership percentages. The Defendant and others then caused false tax returns to be filed underreporting the income the establishments received.” (Emphasis added) 

The Court asked Britt if the facts were true and accurate based on the government’s allegations, to which Britt replied, ‘Yes.’ He also asked Britt if he admitted the government would be able to prove the case as outlined, to which Britt also replied, ‘Yes.’ 

The felony charge of Tax Evasion means Britt will face up to five years in federal prison, be subjected to various fines and penalties of up to $250,000, upwards of $352,404.54 in restitution, $100 special assessment, and up to three years of supervised release. Britt will also lose his right to vote, to hold public office, to own a gun, and to serve on a jury. 

The government did not seek pre-sentencing detention of Britt, however, Hall ordered Britt to post a $30,000 unsecured bond, report to a supervisor and submit to weekly check-ins by phone, avoid excessive alcohol use, avoid unlawful drugs, maintain employment, and surrender his passport. Britt was also prohibited from possessing a firearm, restricted from traveling outside of the Southern District of Georgia, and ordered not to break any additional laws or contact victims or witnesses in the case.

Britt’s counsel, Michael Classens, told the Court that Britt was now living in Bluffton, South Carolina and frequently traveled for work as an event planner. Classens said Britt already had work plans in Boston, Nashville, and rural Alabama. Judge Hall expanded the travel region  under the bond to include the State of South Carolina but told Britt to work on the other travel with the probation officer.

Judge Hall also ordered the probation officer to conduct a pre-sentence investigation in which she will evaluate all of the facts and circumstances surrounding the case for presentment to the judge before sentencing. Britt is expected to be sentenced in approximately 90 days.

Associate from Valdosta Sentenced

Immediately following the hearing for Britt, Michael Heath Cox appeared in court with his parents, wife, and sister. Cox was once a bar owner at an establishment now known to be owned in-part by Britt and his other associates in Valdosta. Cox entered a guilty plea in March 2019 but sentencing was repeatedly postponed due to COVID-19 and other delays. His plea had also been sealed since it was entered.

Represented by William J. Hunter and Tom Withers, Cox appeared before Judge Hall with the same federal prosecutors from Washington D.C., as in the Britt case. 

The Court heard from both Cox’s wife and his father about the impact of owning a bar on the lifestyle of Cox, but also the noticeable difference in his personality and work ethic since leaving the industry altogether. Both testified that after the FBI raid in 2017, Cox and his family moved to Warner Robins in order to sever ties with Britt and other associates completely. Cox’s wife and father asked the court for leniency – including probation only, – though they acknowledged Cox’s role and said they understood the obligations of the court.

Under the sentencing guidelines, Cox was facing twelve to eighteen months in prison, restitution in the amount of $151,962, and a $100 special assessment in addition to any fines ordered by the court.

Though the US government filed a memorandum in support of a reduction in sentencing for Cox, prosecutors argued against a ‘probation only’ sentence because it was insufficient. They argued that because the government does not bring a lot of tax cases, it was important to utilize this case as a deterrent for the many bar owners and other industry participants who accept cash but properly report their earnings to the government each year.

Scheme Ringleader

Judge Hall pressed the prosecutors on Cox’s role in the case, specifically about whether or not Cox ‘designed the scheme’ or ‘introduced the idea to the group [of wrongdoers] as laid out by the government. Prosecutors conceded it was not Cox, but that the scheme was in place and operational for years when Cox entered the enterprise in 2007 or 2008. Judge Hall asked if Cox was directed by another party to take cash from the registers and distribute it to other vested owners in the scheme to disguise the real ownership of the bars.’ The prosecutor replied, “Yes. He was told what needed to be done,” before explaining that the scheme was created in a deliberate manner that was difficult to detect. He said it was only brought to light because of another non-tax investigation that was conducted and shed light on the operations. 

Cox Sentence

Judge Hall ultimately sentenced Cox to three years of probation with a $10,000 penalty and restitution in the amount of $157,962. Judge Hall also barred Cox from owning a firearm, voting, serving on a jury, and holding elected office. He is not permitted to engage in self-employment without approval of his probation officer, must utilize only one financial institution, and avoid seeking additional lines of credit for any reason without approval of his probation officer. He’s subject to a 10:00 p.m. to 6:00 a.m. curfew and cannot hold a fiduciary responsibility in any employment without permission of the probation office. 

Guilty Plea by Third Associate

James Stafford, an associate of Chrysha Inc. and BGRG Inc., entered a guilty plea in federal court last month. He also awaits sentencing. 

Stafford’s plea agreement is below.

https://cdn.thegeorgiavirtue.com/wp-content/uploads/2022/04/Stafford-Information.pdf

Jessica Szilagyi

Jessica Szilagyi is Publisher of TGV News She focuses primarily on state and local politics as well as issues in law enforcement and corrections. She has a background in Political Science with a focus in local government and has a Master of Public Administration from the University of Georgia.

Jessica is a "Like It Or Not" contributor for Fox5 in Atlanta and a commentator on the 'Let Me Tell You Why You're Wrong Podcast.'

Sign up for her weekly newsletter: http://eepurl.com/gzYAZT

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