Gerald D. Harris, a former supervisor in DeKalb County’s Tax Commissioner’s Office, has been sentenced to two years in federal prison for accepting bribe payments from customers to unlawfully register vehicles and for attempting to blackmail a bribe payer by threatening to inform on her to the FBI.
“By accepting bribe payments, Harris sold his integrity for money – and, in doing so, betrayed the trust of the citizens of DeKalb County,” said U.S. Attorney Byung J. “BJay” Pak. “Then, in a truly bold display of audacity, Harris tried to blackmail one of the individuals who had previously paid him bribes.”
“Harris’ flaunting of the law tarnished every government official and erodes the public’s trust in their positions,” said Chris Hacker, Special Agent in Charge of FBI Atlanta. “Now we must work even harder with our partners in law enforcement to regain that trust and hopefully this sentencing is a step in that direction.”
“Mr. Harris traded his integrity for money and, in doing so, dishonored the hard work and dedication exemplified by the vast majority of DeKalb County employees. Today, Mr. Harris is being held accountable for his crimes. The DeKalb County District Attorney’s Office, along with its law enforcement partners, will continue to seek and root out corruption, restoring the public’s trust in its government,” said DeKalb County District Attorney Sherry Boston.
“I am happy this matter is concluding. Our office will continue to be vigilant in guarding the public trust and serving the citizens of DeKalb County,” said Irvin Johnson, DeKalb Tax Commissioner.
According to U.S. Attorney Pak, the charges, and other information presented in court: the DeKalb County Tax Commissioner’s Office is an agency of DeKalb County, Georgia responsible for the billing and collection of property taxes, processing of homestead exemptions, and collecting delinquent taxes. In addition, the Motor Vehicle Division of the DeKalb County Tax Commissioner’s Office handled all aspects of motor vehicle registrations, including: (a) managing the collection of motor vehicle taxes, (b) issuing vehicle tags and titles, and (c) processing vehicle registration renewals for citizens and businesses located in DeKalb County.
From July 2017 to November 2019, Harris served as the Supervisor of Tax Tag Clerks for the DeKalb County Tax Commissioner’s Office. In that position, Harris oversaw the Tax Commissioner – North Office’s clerks who processed motor vehicle registrations and renewals for customers.
From approximately November 2018 to November 2019, Harris accepted bribe payments from customers to unlawfully register vehicles or renew vehicle registrations. For example, Harris accepted bribe payments:
- To register vehicles to individuals who did not have Georgia driver’s licenses or identification cards as required, typically in exchange for $200 per vehicle;
- To register vehicles that did not have the required accompanying documentation (such as: titles or Forms MV-1 title/tag application), typically in exchange for $500 to $1,000 per vehicle; and
- To renew vehicles that had not passed emissions tests by falsely entering that the vehicles had emissions exemptions, typically in exchange for $100 per vehicle.
In total, Harris accepted more than $35,000 in bribe payments.
In addition to accepting bribe payments, Harris also attempted to blackmail one of the individuals who had been paying him bribe money. On November 18, 2019, DeKalb County Tax Commissioner’s Office fired Harris for accepting bribe payments (as fully detailed above). On the same date, Harris admitted to the FBI that he had accepted thousands in bribe payments in exchange for illegally registering/renewing vehicles for several people, including a person identified as Individual-1.
On December 12, 2019, Harris met with Individual-1 at an Atlanta gas station. During the meeting, Individual-1 (who did not know that Harris had been fired) gave Harris registration documentation so that Harris could register four vehicles. Indvidual-1 gave Harris checks and cash to cover the costs of the required fees and taxes for each vehicle. Given that Harris no longer worked for the DeKalb County Tax Commissioner’s Office, Harris obviously could not register the four vehicles for Individual-1. Nevertheless, Harris accepted and kept the money from Individual-1.
Then on December 17, 2019, Individual-1 sent a series of text messages to Harris requesting that Harris return the registration documentation and money. On December 17 and 18, 2019, Harris sent a series of text messages to Individual-1 where Harris stated that: (a) he was under investigation by the FBI, (b) the FBI has a video of Harris and Individual-1 meeting, (c) “[a]ll of us can be in trouble,” (d) Harris needed to know “how much” money will he be paid not to give information to the FBI, and (e) Harris is “not going to prison empty handed. It’s that simple.”
On July 14, 2020, Gerald D. Harris, 51, of Fulton County, Georgia, pleaded guilty to federal program bribery and blackmail. Based on that conduct, the Court sentenced Harris to two years in prison, and three years of supervised release.
The FBI, DeKalb County District Attorney’s Office, Georgia Department of Revenue, and DeKalb County Tax Commissioner’s Office investigated this case.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Jeffrey W. Davis, Chief of the Public Integrity and Special Matters Section, and Assistant U.S. Attorney Nicholas Hartigan prosecuted the case.