Top Ga. revenue official out after falsely claiming college degree

A senior investigator at the state Department of Revenue is resigning while under investigation for falsely stating in a job application he had a degree from a college that doesn’t exist.

Josh Waites, director of the Office of Special Investigations, submitted his resignation this week after the State Inspector General found he did not have a two-year degree in criminal justice from the University of Northwest Florida. Waites, who earns $107,000 a year, said he had such a degree in a job form filled out in 2015 when he successfully sought a promotion.

Waites resigned just days after Inspector General Deborah Wallace notified Revenue Commissioner David Curry about her office's findings. In a Feb. 27 letter obtained by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution and Channel 2 Action News under the Georgia Open Records Act, Wallace said the matter had been referred to the Attorney General's Office's for review and possible prosecution.

Waites did not respond to a request for comment from the AJC. He told Channel 2 he could not comment because he was still a state employee. The department is allowing Waites to stay on the job through March 13.

While the inspector general’s investigation found that Waites’ education did not factor into his hiring or his salary, she said the “false statement … affects his credibility as a law enforcement officer and the integrity of the DOR.”

“(M)isrepresenting educational history on an official document is a serious matter,” Wallace wrote. “… This is especially concerning as Waites’ credibility is paramount to his participation in criminal investigations and prosecutions of tax matters for DOR.”

Revenue Commissioner Curry issued a statement saying his office was cooperating with the investigation.

“At this time, I will decline to comment on any additional specifics,” he said.

Atlanta employment lawyer Joyce Kitchens said Waites’ actions could harm future prosecutions that must rely on Waites’ testimony. “Once a law enforcement official has falsified a document … the defense attorney can bring this up and show they were untruthful in a material way in a prior instance and, therefore, who’s to believe them now?”

Waites came to Revenue in 2013 from the Clayton County Sheriff’s Office, where he had served as a sergeant over the special investigations unit. Prior to that, he was in Florida where he was an elected fire commissioner and a local police officer, according to his official state bio and his LinkedIn profile.

High-profile investigations

In recent years, Waites made a name for himself in highly publicized arrests of tax evaders and raids of their businesses, many of them captured by the news media because they'd been given a heads-up to the events.

Waites led an investigation against former Hapeville city councilwoman Ruth Barr that led to guilty pleas for computer theft, false statements and criminal attempt to commit theft related to filing fraudulent tax returns. Barr served 2 1/2 years in prison for stealing more than $100,000 from a dying relative in a case unrelated to the Department of Revenue investigation.

Waites has had a rougher time of late.

Last August, Waites worked with federal agents to bring conspiracy, bank fraud and tax fraud charges against Todd and Julie Chrisley, the stars of the cable reality show "Chrisley Knows Best." But just two months later, the Chrisleys filed suit against Waites, accusing him of illegally sharing confidential grand jury and tax information with their estranged daughter. Those cases are still pending.

The Chrisleys’ lawyer, former Georgia Attorney General Michael Bowers, called Waites an attention-seeking “rogue” who brought charges because of the couple’s public profile.

In October, a subordinate filed a sexual harassment complaint against Waites. An investigation determined the complaint was without merit.

Warning to employees

The problems with his job application were not so easily dismissed.

The Inspector General’s review found that Waites does not have an associate’s degree from the University of Northwest Florida, as he claimed. In fact, there is no University of Northwest Florida. Because the school Waites cited does not exist, he must have been referring to Northwest Florida State College, Wallace said. That college was formerly named Okaloosa Walton Junior College, which Waites attended in 2007.

Katie Byrd, a spokeswoman for state Attorney General Chris Carr, said her office is reviewing the Inspector General’s report.

Waites is the second high-ranking state official to leave office because of falsely claiming he had an associate’s degree in criminal justice. Department of Juvenile Justice Avery Niles was fired from his position last July after it was disclosed he had testified under oath he had such a degree during a pretrial deposition in 2017.

Kitchens, the employment lawyer, said these cases should be important warnings to employees.

“Do not falsify or inflate your resumé, and if you’ve done it clean it up one way or another,” she said. “Either get another job or fix it. It is a time bomb that is ticking on your career.”