Georgia agency misused seized money for fitness devices, furniture, vehicles

(The Center Square) – A Georgia agency kept millions of dollars in seized funds, spending some of it on Fitbit devices, fitness equipment and vehicles, according to a recent Office of the Inspector General (OIG) report.

The OIG report revealed the former head of the Office of Special Investigations (OSI), a division of the Georgia Department of Revenue (GDOR), held on to more than $5.3 million that was supposed to be returned to the state treasury. 

Former OSI Director Joshua Waites spent hundreds of thousands of dollars seized from tax investigations on items that were “questionable and would likely be deemed wasteful and unnecessary,” the OIG said.

“OIG’s investigation revealed an office culture at the highest levels of leadership within OSI that disregarded any semblance of their professional responsibilities,” State Inspector General Scott McAfee said in a statement.

The OIG conducted an investigation into Waites after receiving a tip in January 2020 from an attorney for reality-star couple Todd and Julie Chrisley. Chris Anulewicz, a partner at Balch and Bingham LLP, told the agency to look into Waites’ background after a public records request revealed Waites falsified information on his employment application. Anulewicz was working on a lawsuit against Waites.

The OIG’s investigation confirmed the director lied about obtaining a college degree. Waites tried to resign, but the GDOR fired him in March 2020. The attorney also pointed the OIG to the other allegations.

The OIG report showed the OSI unlawfully spent $6,660 on Fitbit devices for GDOR personnel, about $40,000 on fitness equipment, $321,000 for office furniture and $800,000 on vehicles. The report showed the agency spent $3.1 million for “proper prosecutorial purposes,” which included reimbursement for work-related travel expenses and software licenses.

The GDOR transferred the remaining $2.1 million to the state treasury, after being directed by the OIG.

The OIG said Waites repeatedly disregarded legal advice from the Prosecuting Attorneys’ Council of Georgia and “intentionally misled” GDOR leadership about the division’s ability to spend the money. GDOR leaders thought the spending was appropriate and approved by the council before the investigation, the OIG said.

“This misdirection of funds did not stem from a simple misunderstanding of the law,” the OIG said.

The OIG report, released Tuesday, confirmed reporting last year by the Atlanta Journal-Constitution and WSB-TV that showed the OSI used the seized money to buy trinkets, engraved firearms, tactical gear, a fleet of cars and to travel.

GDOR Commissioner Robyn Crittenden said the department is committed to changing the culture exposed in the report by “doing the right thing and serving the taxpayers of Georgia with integrity and accountability.”

McAfee said he was encouraged to see GDOR was working to repair the division’s reputation, but the “misused money” never will be returned to taxpayers “in full.”

“Regardless, this report should remind state employees that they will be held accountable if they choose to deliberately ignore the laws and regulations of this state,” McAfee said.

By Nyamekye Daniel | The Center Square

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