Atlanta jeweler pleads guilty to animal cruelty

Sarkis Agasarkisian, a politically connected Atlanta businessman, faced multiple felony counts, a public integrity prosecution and possible prison time.

This stemmed from his 2013 arrest for allegedly stealing and then mistreating a German shepherd that had run away from a nearby home in an upscale Mount Paran neighborhood. And prosecutors then learned Agasarkisian had a violent past, which led to even more charges because he had long served as a volunteer Fulton County deputy.

But in an agreement reached last week, Agasarkisian was allowed to plead guilty to a single misdemeanor animal cruelty charge. In return, prosecutors dismissed all the remaining counts of theft, making false statements, violating his oath as a peace officer and influencing witnesses.

Agasarkisian was sentenced to a year on probation. He will be allowed to ask for this conviction to be expunged two years from now.

“It was a tremendous outcome,” his lawyer, Drew Findling, said. “This puts him kind of back to his normal life again. I think it really worked out very well for him.”

In a statement, Fulton County District Attorney Paul Howard said that “after careful consideration of the facts and circumstances involved in the case, it was our conclusion that the proper resolution of this matter was the entry of the misdemeanor plea by Agasarkisian.”

Because there were theft and false statement allegations, it was important that Agasarkisian surrender his law enforcement certification so he would never have the chance to serve as a peace officer again, Howard said. “We have already communicated the outcome of this case to the post officials.”

Agasarkisian’s case started with an unusual twist when two former Atlanta mayors privately reached out to judges to say Agasarkisian should be allowed to post bond.

First, former Mayor and United Nations Ambassador Andrew Young telephoned Fulton Superior Court Judge Alford Dempsey, who was initially assigned the case. Dempsey said there was nothing he could do and then recused himself before considering Agasarkisian’s bond.

Superior Court Judge Henry Newkirk got the case next. On the morning of the bond hearing, former Mayor Bill Campbell visited Newkirk in his chambers and spoke on Agasarkian’s behalf. Newkirk disclosed the conversation during the ensuing hearing in which he granted Agasarkisian bond. Newkirk later recused himself from the case.

Last Tuesday, Agasarkisian entered a so-called “Alford plea” to the animal cruelty charge before Superior Court Judge Robert McBurney.

In Alford pleas, defendants do not admit to being guilty of the crime but acknowledge it’s in their best interests to enter the plea. And defendants who enter Alford pleas have convictions on their records.

Agasarkisian, who has run jewelry and financial businesses, was initially charged with stealing General, a German shepherd that had run away through an invisible fence at the home of Philip and Kimberly Brunson.

Almost four months later, the Brunsons received a call from a woman who worked for Agasarkisian and said their dog was at his house and was dying. When Philip Brunson drove over, he found General emaciated and his fur in tatters.

(“General is fully recovered and doing great,” Seth Kirschenbaum, a lawyer for the Brunsons, said Monday. “He is a beoved member of the family.”)

Prosecutors then learned that Agasarkisian had previously been charged with murder in California and had resolved that case by pleading guilty in 1984 to voluntary manslaughter. Agasarkisian was then charged with making false statements because he had not disclosed the conviction when he applied to be a member of the Fulton sheriff’s reserve or when he received his certification from the Georgia Peace Officer Standards and Training Council.

Findling, Agasarkisian’s lawyer, said his client was initially going to be tried in the animal cruelty case, then face a separate trial on the false statement charges.

“We really felt like were were going to win both of them,” said Findling, noting that Agasarkisian’s prior California conviction had been expunged. “We felt the evidence was going to result in not guilty verdicts.”