Ex-official pleads guilty in tax scheme that hid bar income
A former city council member from a college town in southeast Georgia has become the third person to plead guilty to tax evasion on income from bars he secretly owned across Georgia.
Former Statesboro council member Will Britt pleaded guilty to one count of tax evasion Wednesday in federal court, the Statesboro Herald reports, and could face up to five years in prison. Britt is free on bail pending sentencing by U.S. District Judge J. Randal Hall at a later date.
Britt dropped the indictment in March and pleaded guilty to a charge filed by prosecutors. Information presented to the court showed that while the bars were owned on paper by people other than Britt, he owned a share in each of them.
Prosecutors said the owners skimmed cash and underreported credit and debit card receipts, avoiding paying taxes on the cash.
Prosecutors said in court documents that the scheme began in 2007 and continued until 2016. The FBI and IRS began investigating in 2014.
Britt has agreed to pay more than $352,000 in restitution to the Internal Revenue Service, representing the back taxes he owes. Including other owners, prosecutors said the IRS was defrauded of more than $867,000.
Prosecutors said Britt did not tell his accountant about money he was hiding in eight bars and restaurants in Statesboro, Americus, Milledgeville, Tifton and Valdosta.
Michael Heath Cox, who pleaded guilty in 2019, was sentenced Wednesday to three years probation, $158,000 restitution and a $10,000 fine.
James Stafford, who nominally owned a Statesboro bar and a Milledgeville bar and restaurant, pleaded guilty last month to tax evasion. He is paying $53,000 in restitution and could also face up to five years in prison.
Britt served on the Statesboro City Council from 2004 to 2015.
While in office, the council agreed to a settlement in which another man – neither Britt nor Stafford – surrendered the license of a bar in question named Rude Rudy’s.
It came after off-duty bouncer Grant Spencer, 20, beat 18-year-old Georgia Southern University student Michael Gatto to death in 2014. Spencer pleaded guilty to intentional homicide in 2016 and was sentenced to 20 years in prison. .
Gatto’s parents sued the city to no avail. However, the city changed its liquor laws and the state passed a law prohibiting people under 21 from working as bouncers.
Britt openly owned other Statesboro bars in the late 1990s and early 2000s. He now lives in Bluffton, South Carolina.