Snellville Mayor Tom Witts under investigation for unpaid taxes

The mayor of Snellville is under investigation for allegedly failing to pay his personal state taxes and those for workers at a business he owns, Gwinnett County’s District Attorney said Tuesday.

Mayor Tom Witts, who was elected in November, is also accused of co-mingling campaign, personal and business funds, in violation of state law, District Attorney Danny Porter said. In addition, Porter said, Witts improperly received payment for work his company did for the city while he was mayor.

Witts has not been indicted or charged with any crimes. Reached Tuesday, he said he was at lunch and would have to comment later, but he didn’t return several phone calls or an email. Witts’ attorney also did not return a phone call seeking comment.

The investigation is simply the latest upheaval for Snellville, which has seen various politicians fighting with each other for years.

Recently, city council was engaged in a power struggle with Mayor Kelly Kautz in an attempt to limit her authority. Led by Witts, who was Mayor Pro Tem, the council squabbled with Kautz over her appointments and various other issues.

“People are probably tired of their city being in the headlines,” Kautz said.

Search warrants, which remain sealed, were executed at Witts’ home and at his Tucker business late last month, Porter said. Witts own Georgia Property Restoration, a home improvement and repair business.

“It wasn’t like a raid,” Porter said. “He was present during the execution of the search warrant. He was pleasant. He made some small talk. He was surprised but cooperative.”

Five laptops and other electronic devices were seized and later returned to Witts, their hard drives copied for investigators to comb over.

The state Department of Revenue and the Georgia Bureau of Investigation are involved in the investigation, Porter said. The organizations are now sifting through the data collected in the search, Porter said, a process which could take more than a month.

Some allegations about unpaid taxes were part of the mayoral campaign that pitted Witts against Kautz. Porter said he had been investigating the accusations for years, since Witts ran for city council. Witts said at the time that he was on a plan to repay federal taxes he owed.

“This is money that I took from my 401k that I’m paying taxes and penalties on now,” he told Channel 2 Action News previously.

Porter said he received a tip during Witts’ 2013 race that the councilman had lied on his candidacy affidavit about having paid his taxes. But the question’s wording was ambiguous and it was unclear if Witts had answered truthfully.

Porter said he met over the years with representatives from the offices of the attorney general and secretary of state to clarify the matter. When Witts qualified to run for mayor, the matter resurfaced.

“Rather than be accused of trying to interfere with an election, I held off,” Porter said. “The people of Snellville knew. He admitted he’s been delinquent on his taxes since he ran for city council. I didn’t feel there were any new revelations.”

So far, Porter said, the investigation has shown that, in addition to federal taxes, Witts owes tens of thousands of dollars in state taxes that he does not have a payment plan for. Also, for the past two years, Witts has been withholding state taxes from employees, but not been paying them to the state.

Kautz said she was not surprised by the investigation. When Witts was a member of city council, she said, she was bothered by the fact that his company installed windows and did work on a veterans’ memorial that he spearheaded. Kautz said the situation “didn’t smell right.” Now, she said, the mayor doesn’t follow the rules.

“I think you have a group of people in office who think they’re above the law,” Kautz said.

On Witts’ Facebook page, dozens of people offered support, liking a comment from a resident that said the accusations were “repeated drudging up of old news” or urging the mayor to “hang in there” with comments of their own. On Kautz’s page, the comments were about karma.

City employees weren’t really making note of the latest fracas, Snellville Police Chief Roy Whitehead said.

“There’s been a lot of trouble, but pretty much everybody does their job every day,” he said. “We don’t talk about it.”