Former city councilman and business owner Will Britt will appear in federal court Wednesday.
Britt, a longtime owner of bars and nighttime establishments in college towns, served on the Statesboro City Council from 2003 to 2015, at which time he opted not to seek re-election. Britt’s businesses were deemed controversial by some and he dealt with city regulatory issues as well as incidents of violence at his places of business, both before and during his tenure as an elected official.
Britt is currently the sole defendant in a case brought by the federal government for tax evasion, a count that carries a sentence of up to five years in prison.
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. 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 Michael Classens, and the government.
Entering a plea early on in the process in federal cases is incentivized on the back end, often through a sentencing reduction. The notice filed by Britt also has benefits: waiving his right to an indictment means the case won’t be presented to a grand jury. In doing so, information published in public records is limited.
While specific details of a federal plea agreement are not made public until the plea is entered in court before the U.S. District Court judge, a notice of plea sheds some light on forthcoming admissions.
Entering a plea requires a defendant to admit to the allegations outlined by the government. Britt’s accusation, though limited, details answers to questions that members of the Statesboro community have been asking for years.
DETAILS OF THE ALLEGATIONS
Court documents allege that, on paper, only one individual was listed as the owner of any respective establishment, but “in practice,” each establishment had multiple partners with varying ownership percentages, including Britt.
Among the establishments listed in the document which the federal government asserts Britt had ownership:
- 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 document also states “The Defendant [William Britt] held varying percentages of ownership interest in each of the establishments [listed above].”
“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 allegations of tax evasion are listed specifically as:
- Providing false information to an account for the preparation of tax returns regarding income earned by Dillinger’s, The Milltown Groove, and Bluewater Saloon;
- Failing 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;
- Causing a false tax return to be filed, which stipulated that Britt and his wife earned a collective $36,845 in 2014.
IMPLICATIONS OF STATESBORO COUNCILMAN ENTERING PLEA IS FEDERAL COURT
The assertions by the federal government following a years-long investigation are crucial for a number of reasons, but perhaps most notably is Britt’s ownership in Rude Rudy’s.
The Statesboro bar was the site of an altercation between bouncer Grant Spender and patron Michael Gatto in 2014, which left Gatto dead. Without liability insurance, the bar shuttered and the owner ‘on paper’ moved to South Carolina. In response to the outcry from the Gatto family and the general public, the city took on a complete overhaul of Statesboro’s alcohol ordinances, later adopted regulations stiffening those for establishment in the city limits, and altered parameters about involvement of elected officials in certain businesses. The city was also subjected to a lengthy lawsuit, which only concluded in 2021 after a ruling by the Georgia Supreme Court.
For many of these reforms, Britt served as Mayor Pro Tem on the Statesboro City Council, offered input on proposed measures, fielded criticism from citizens, and voted to adopt resolutions without ever making mention of his ownership in the bar that sparked it all.