The state raided Gladys Knight’s namesake chicken and waffles restaurants in metro Atlanta on Tuesday as authorities opened a criminal investigation into her son’s business dealings.
Agents with the Georgia Department of Revenue, with help from local authorities, raided all three locations of the restaurant as well as its corporate headquarters — all operated by Knight’s son, Shanga Hankerson.
The raids, reported first by Channel 2 Action News, came as authorities said Hankerson owed the state more than $1 million in taxes and penalties. That includes allegations that Hankerson failed to remit sales and withholding taxes and instead used the money for personal use.
Authorities issued seven arrest warrants for Hankerson, who had not turned himself in as of Tuesday evening. He is charged with theft by taking and theft by conversion.
Knight is not under investigation, and authorities said she is not suspected of any criminal activity. But a spokeswoman for the singer — who has made many appearances in Atlanta on behalf of the restaurant — said Tuesday that Knight was aware of what happened.
“Gladys Knight lent her name to her son’s restaurants in the Atlanta area, similar to a celebrity endorsement,” said Laura Herlovich, Knight’s Las Vegas-based spokeswoman. “Ms. Knight was not involved in any way with the operation of the restaurants, and she is sure that her son and his business partners will rectify the situation.”
“As always, her main concern is for her family’s well-being, and she is making sure the family has the guidance they need to assess the situation and move forward,” Herlovich said.
The restaurant first launched in 1997 in Midtown in an opening attended by then-Mayor Bill Campbell and R&B stars Aliyah and Ginuwine. The eatery two years later moved to Peachtree Street, where it remains today. The two other locations are on Cascade Road in Atlanta and in Lithonia.
The singer at the time said the effort fulfilled a lifetime dream, with the help of family: “I’ve always wanted to get into the restaurant business, and now I’m able to do it vicariously through my kids, ” Knight said.
The Peachtree Street location was in the news recently after failing a health inspection. Knight visited the restaurant earlier this month and said customers should have no qualms about indulging in the restaurant’s delectable menu of Southern favorites.
Employees confirmed Tuesday that the raids had closed the locations at least temporarily, although state officials said they wanted to work with Hankerson to set up an agreement that would let the restaurant reopen under state guidance.
“It is never the Department of Revenue’s primary goal to shut down a business,” said the department’s Josh Waites, who oversees its office of special investigations. “We are working with Mr. Hankerson’s attorney to have the business up and running again as soon as possible.”
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