Former Statesboro City Councilman Will Britt was sentenced Monday to 33 months in federal prison and to pay restitution of $352,404 following a guilty plea to felony tax evasion in April.
In pronouncing the sentence, Chief Judge Randal Hall of the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Georgia agreed with the Department of Justice’s recommendation of the prison term and turned down the request from Britt for supervisory probation plus restitution, but no incarceration. As part of his plea agreement, Britt cannot appeal the sentence.
Britt’s tax evasion conviction resulted from a scheme that disguised the true ownership of bars — of which he was in fact part owner — in several Georgia communities. He faced a maximum possible sentence for the tax evasion conviction of five years in prison, three years of supervised release, a $250,000 fine, the costs of prosecution, forfeiture of assets and a $100 special assessment.
“This was not a brief lapse of judgment,” David Zisserson, assistant chief for the Department of Justice Tax Division, said in a statement in Judge Hall’s courtroom inside the Prince H. Preston Federal Building in Statesboro. “This was a serious crime that went on for years led by Mr. Britt in a concerted effort to conceal income.”
Britt, 48, was ordered by Judge Hall to surrender by Nov. 7 to the Bureau of Prisons. Britt and attorney Michael Classens requested he be incarcerated at either the Pensacola, Fla., or Montgomery, Ala., Federal Camp. Both are minimum-security prisons with populations of about 800 inmates. Hall said he would make those requests to the Bureau of Prisons.
Prior to the sentence, an emotional Britt spoke to the court about his criminal actions and how they have impacted his life and that of his family and friends.
“The last six years have been the hardest of my life,” Britt said. “I have hurt my family and myself. Out of a skewed view that the more money I had meant I was a more successful person, I purposely underreported income. I accept full responsibility for my actions and blame no one but myself. And now I have to face the consequences.”
Also, Judge Hall sentenced Britt to three years of supervisory probation after he is released, which, among other stipulations, requires Britt to allow the IRS access to all his financial records upon request; he cannot open any credit cards or lines of credit without permission; he can only have one bank account for which he is signatory without permission; he must inform any future employers of his conviction; and he must live under a 10 p.m.-6 a.m. curfew, unless he receives permission otherwise.
“William Britt used a web of connections to build a business model that allowed them to hide significant amounts of income from taxation, and this sentencing holds him accountable for this illegal tax evasion,” said David H. Estes, U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Georgia.
Britt paid $100,000 of his $352,404 restitution in the courtroom Monday. As part of the sentence, Britt will be required to pay $25 per month towards the restitution as long as he is imprisoned. The payment will go to $500 per month once he is released. Hall did not issue an additional fine.
Request for a lesser sentence
In a pre-sentencing filing, Classens requested Hall consider less than the 33 months prison time recommended by the DOJ. Classens made the same request in a statement directly to Hall in court Monday, arguing that Britt already was being punished.
“The question whether probation will afford ‘just punishment’ may be answered with practical observation,” Classens wrote. “Britt's status as an elected official has been irreparably harmed by his actions in committing this offense. The pride his parents, wife, daughter and son may have felt in Britt's public service and standing in the community is no more.”
Laura Britt, Britt’s wife, read a statement to the court Monday, in which she said: “His family is the most affected by his actions. … The feelings of betrayal are difficult to deal with. … He has taken full responsibility for what he did, and I have seen a transformed man. … His children are his life, and he has become a better father.”
In a letter he submitted as part of his sentencing record, Britt wrote: “This legal situation has obviously been unpleasant, but being held accountable was what I needed at the time. I've learned that eventually, dishonesty always catches up with us.”
The government, however, believed Britt deserved the 33 months of prison for “directing the entire deceptive operation through his own greed and dishonesty,” Zisserson said. “Punishment cannot end at the embarrassment of being caught. Honest taxpayers need to say there are serious consequences for those who knowingly deceive. Mr. Britt does not deserve a break.”
Judge Hall agreed in affirming the 33 months of incarceration for Britt.
“I have reviewed the pre-sentencing reports from both parties along with two supplements,” he said. “I have carefully considered the sentencing factors and I see no reason to depart from the sentencing guidelines. … The sentence of 33 months adequately reflects the seriousness of the offense.”
Appearing in the same federal court April 13, Britt plead guilty to falsifying his tax returns from 2010 to 2016.
Britt acknowledged then that he agreed to pay $352,404.54 restitution to the Internal Revenue Service.
During that hearing, Britt confirmed for the court that he failed to inform an accountant, identified as “Accountant A,” who operated a firm in Sylvania, of cash distributions he received from bars or restaurants called The Milltown Groove, Dillinger’s, Bluewater Saloon, The Gin, Flip Flops, Rude Rudy’s, Rum Runners and Capital City and 119 Chops. Both Rude Rudy’s and Rum Runners were bars, which passed as restaurants at a time when Statesboro did not license bars as such, in University Plaza. The other establishments were in towns across southern and middle Georgia.
Also listed were other bars he had an interest in for which he did not report income.
Past Boro bars
Rude Rudy’s, founded in Statesboro in January 2007, was owned on paper by an “Individual F” but really belonged to multiple partners, the government asserted. Finally, Chrysha Inc. was a Georgia corporation formed in April 2002, with “Individual G” as its sole owner on paper. But again, Britt and other partners owned varying percentages and received cash shares, the government asserted. Chrysha Inc. did business as Rum Runners.
3 council terms
Britt was an elected member of Statesboro City Council from January 2004 through December 2015.
In September 2014, City Council accepted a settlement in which another man — not Britt — named as the owner of Rude Rudy’s agreed to surrender its license and close the bar permanently. This followed the Aug. 28, 2014, death of Georgia Southern University student Michael Gatto, 18, from a beating received there at the hands of an off-duty bouncer. The bouncer, Grant James Spencer, 20 at the time, pled guilty to voluntary manslaughter in October 2016 and received a 20-year prison sentence.
In the late 1990s and early 2000s, Britt was the acknowledged owner of other Statesboro drinking establishments, including Legends Bar & Grill and the Woodin Nickel.
He was no longer a City Council member in February 2017 when FBI and IRS agents seized documents from his home in Statesboro as well as from several businesses across the state.