Inside his Marietta law office, Barnes spoke on Brooks' behalf and said the state lawmaker, who was indicted by a federal grand jury last week on 30 counts of committing mail, wire, and tax fraud and filing false tax returns, "did not break any laws." He also questioned U.S. Attorney Sally Yates' "discretion" to make this a criminal case instead of a civil tax matter.
"It's simply not a crime," said Barnes, who's representing Brooks pro bono. "You have to have a specific intent to defraud. There's just no specific intent [here]. If he wanted to defraud somebody, he would've created a $200,000 to $300,000 salary and paid expenses on top of that. This is just crazy."
Brooks, who pleaded not guilty on Wednesday and was released on a $25,000 unsecured bond, declined to comment at the press conference. He was flanked by supporters and held his four-year-old grandson, Mateo Mitchell, in his arms as Barnes addressed the media.
Last week, a federal grand jury charged Brooks with misappropriating more than $1 million from two charitable organizations, Universal Humanities Inc. and the Georgia Association of Black Elected Officials. The longtime state lawmaker allegedly solicited donations from companies and individuals and later used those funds to pay for personal expenses such as home repairs, health insurance, and electronic equipment.
When the charges were first announced, he hinted that the government was pressuring him because of his tireless efforts to raise awareness the 1946 Moore's Ford Bridge killings. Brooks said that he and others were "getting close to proving federal involvement in the lynching massacre."
Barnes said Brooks never took a salary from either group and claimed he only used the money to pay for related expenses. He also noted that the money Brooks allegedly stole amounted to somewhere between $40,000 and $50,000 per year. If the lawmaker had simply set up a salary from the beginning, Barnes said, there would be no issue.
"There is a difference between bad bookkeeping and trying to lock someone up for 10 to 20 years," Barnes said.
Gov. Nathan Deal is expected to create a three-person panel in the next few weeks to review the case. Brooks could be suspended from the Georgia General Assembly pending the group's findings.
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