Gwinnett County Sheriff Keybo Taylor accused of extortion, is the subject of GBI investigation, multiple lawsuits by bail bonding companies
Gwinnett County Sheriff Keybo Taylor is the subject of a criminal investigation by state officials and at least three lawsuits related to allegations that he did not renew contracts for some bonding companies if they did not support his election campaign last fall, officials and attorneys have told the Daily Post.
As sheriff, Taylor has the authority to decide which bail bonding companies are allowed to operate in Gwinnett County. Approved companies receive certificates of authority. No bonding company can issue bonds in a county without one of those certificates.
In a complex story, Taylor and attorneys representing three bonding companies whose ability to work in Gwinnett was revoked by the sheriff are trading harsh words over the issue. One case is pending in federal court while at least two more are pending in Gwinnett County Superior Court.
The court cases came to the attention of media outlets after the sheriff’s office issued a statement late on the night of May 13, in which Taylor accused one of those companies, Anytime Bail Bonding, of playing politics.
“I campaigned to reform the criminal justice system, including the bonding industry in Gwinnett County,” Taylor said. “As sheriff of Gwinnett County, I have the sole discretion of which bail bonding businesses can operate in Gwinnett.
“I immediately began examining the bail bonding companies and I eliminated several that did not meet my high standards for various reasons. Anytime Bail Bonding, owned by Scott Hall, did not meet my high standards so I revoked his authority to operate in Gwinnett. He sued me over my decision.”
Countering the sheriff, Hall’s attorney, Bob Cheeley said, “This sheriff kicked out Anytime Bail Bonding, that’s been operating in Gwinnett County for 26 years, has a stellar record, no infractions ever with the sheriff’s department. Butch Conway, the former sheriff, spoke very highly of Scott Hall, and his integrity.
“This sheriff had no reason, no facts whatsoever to base his opinion upon to, or decision to, terminate their bonding ability in Gwinnett.”
Looming over the court cases, however, is an investigation of Taylor by the Georgia Bureau of Investigation. It was spurred by a video Hall sent to GBI Director Vic Reynolds, who is an acquaintance of the Anytime Bail Bonding owner, last September.
The video shows Taylor meeting with the office manager at Anytime Bail Bonding during the 2020 campaign season, before Taylor was elected sheriff.
“If folks don’t support me, I’m not going to let them bond here,” Taylor can be heard telling the office manager in the short video clip, which Cheeley sent to the Daily Post Friday. “I’m just not going to let them do it. That’s the reason that everybody I’ve gone to, I’m like ‘Hey, go on there. Do your research. Research me out. Research my opponent. And then make a decision on what you want to do.’”
Taylor brought the existence of the video to the media’s attention in his statement last week.
After reviewing a copy of Taylor’s press release, GBI spokeswoman Nelly Miles confirmed there was an open investigation into the sheriff, but she said she could not provide details about what the investigation was about. Cheeley said the Georgia Attorney General’s Office is working with the GBI on that investigation, but AG’s Office spokeswoman Katie Byrd said she could not comment on the matter.
The video plays a key role in Anytime Bail Bonding’s argument that its ability to write bonds in Gwinnett County was revoked in an act of revenge for not supporting the sheriff in the 2020 election.
“On Jan. 1, the first day the sheriff was in office, he retaliated against Scott Hall for giving the GBI that video that showed the sheriff trying to extort money from Scott Hall’s company,” Cheeley said.
Sheriff’s Office spokeswoman Deputy Ashley Castiblanco declined to comment on the matter beyond what was in Taylor’s statement.
‘This is serious business’
The allegations have major implications, according to Mike Bowers, a former Georgia Attorney General who is working with Cheeley on Anytime Bail Bonding’s case and is also representing two other bonding companies in separate court cases pending in Gwinnett County Superior Court.
“This is serious business,” Bowers said. “One, it involves the highest ranking law enforcement officer in the biggest county in Georgia — or close to the biggest county — (and), two, it involved the livelihood of a number of people who work at Anytime Bail Bonding. That’s pretty serious.
“And, it involves, three, an ongoing criminal investigation into the sheriff’s conduct. That makes it pretty darn serious.”
Cheeley said Anytime Bail Bonding has to continue servicing the bonds it had already written in Gwinnett.
“So, they’ve got no income coming in, and all they have is liabilities,” he said.
But, a judge sided with Taylor at a hearing involving one of the other bonding companies, The Bondsman Inc., on Tuesday morning. The sheriff’s attorney, Murray Weed, argued that Taylor was within his rights to not renew The Bondsman’s certificate of authority because it was behind on meeting bonding-related financial obligations until May 5, which was after due process hearings were held and multiple notices of certificate non-renewal were sent.
“The court cannot say there was a gross misuse of discretion when the bonding company had outstanding obligations,” Senior Judge David Sweat said as he ruled in favor of Taylor.
Accusations of political games
In his statement, Taylor accused Hall of sending the video to the GBI to hurt him in the fall general election against Lou Solis, who was the chief deputy under Conway and the Republican nominee for sheriff last year.
“In September of 2020, Hall had initiated an investigation of me by sending misleading and tampered evidence to the GBI in order to support my opponent, Lou Solis, during the general election,” Taylor said. “Then, as a trial tactic, he disclosed the unfounded investigation to the judge in an attempt to influence the outcome of the civil trial between Anytime Bonding Co. and myself.
“In a previous hearing, the judge ruled in my favor in open court. The investigation is nothing more than a political stunt and trial tactic that attacks my character, my integrity, and my commitment to criminal justice and bail bond reform in Gwinnett County.”
Cheeley denied his client was trying to help Solis get elected.
“Scott Hall did not give the video to his opponent, even though the opponent asked for the video,” the attorney said. “My client did not give him the video so that’s just purely false. He asked Scott Hall for the video so he could use it against Keybo Taylor in his campaigning, and Scott Hall said, ‘No, I’m not going to do it.’ “
A question over due process
Cheeley said he and Hall met with Taylor in February for a due process hearing to appeal Taylor’s decision to revoke Anytime Bail Bonding’s certificate.
The attorney said he tried to press Taylor to get an on-the-record answer about why Anytime Bail Bonding’s ability to work in Gwinnett was revoked. Cheeley said no reason for the decision was listed in the letter sent to the bonding company to inform Hall that his certificate of authority was revoked.
“At that meeting — I refuse to call it a hearing, it was a joke — he refused to give us any of the facts that he relied upon to base his decision to revoke the bonding certificate,” Cheeley said. “And, then when we told him the burden of proof was on him as an elected official, to justify his decision, and not us to tell him why we ought to be able to be allowed to continue to write bonds in the county … he refused to tell us.
“In fact, this is what he said. He said, ‘This is my house and I set the rules.’ “
At an April 12 hearing in Gwinnett County Superior Court, Taylor testified that he told the office manager that “supporting him” actually meant supporting programs he wanted to roll out as sheriff and not financially supporting his campaign, according to a hearing transcript provided to the Daily Post by Cheeley.
Taylor claimed that part of the conversation was omitted from the video clip sent to the GBI.
Disputes over a meeting at a steakhouse
Taylor also reportedly testified that he met with Hall at Frankie’s Steakhouse in unincorporated Duluth after the video recording. The sheriff testified that he was under the impression that Hall was going to get the GBI to quash the investigation.
“Basically, what Mr. Hall told me was, he said, he looked at me and he said, ‘We don’t have a problem here,’ “ Taylor testified. “He said that, ‘I’m the owner, you and I never had a meeting, you and I have never met, you’ve never asked me for anything, therefore, I’m not a victim and this is a non-issue.’
“He went on, and also in that conversation, he told me that he was going to contact Vic (Reynolds) and get this thing taken care of.”
However, Cheeley said Hall never had the ability to get the GBI to drop the investigation.
“Keybo Taylor wanted Scott Hall to tell the GBI to drop the investigation, which Scott refused to do,” the attorney said. “He’s not going to meddle in the affairs of the GBI. He’s going to let them do their job. If a crime was committed, then the GBI and the attorney general will decide that. Not Scott Hall and not Keybo Taylor.
“And, then when Scott Hall refused to tell the GBI to drop the investigation, Keybo Taylor decided it was time to retaliate.”
Cheeley said Taylor argued that Hall had mislead him during the meeting at Frankie’s and therefore “he did not have good moral character,” prompting Hall to lose his certificate to write bonds in Gwinnett.
‘The Court is troubled …’At the hearing on April 12, Sweat declined a request from Anytime Bail Bonding’s attorneys to issue a writ of mandamus ordering Taylor to issue a certificate of authority to do bonding business in Gwinnett.
But, Sweat also raised concerns about the facts of the case — which he called “very troubling” — and told Taylor that he needed to “kind of re-evaluate how you run things,” according to the hearing transcript.
“The Court is troubled by the manner in which the (February) hearing was conducted,” the transcript quotes Sweat as saying during the hearing. “The notice of what Anytime had to meet at the hearing was opaque, at best, but then the remedy for that defect in notice is to have a do-over.
“But even if you had a do-over on it, the sheriff’s discretion about who he may authorize to write bonds is, again, it’s very broad, and he has the definition of good moral character, or, moral character, however it’s phrased in the statute, there doesn’t seem to be a lot of guardrails for that.”
Anytime Bail Bonding currently has a federal lawsuit pending against Taylor in the U.S. District Court for the North District of Georgia over the matter. Cheeley said he is pursuing a jury trial in the federal court, alleging Taylor’s decision violated Hall’s constitution rights by not letting him do business in Gwinnett.
Hall’s attorneys are seeking “millions and millions of dollars” in damages in that case.
Gwinnett Sheriff Keybo Taylor defends decisions regarding non-renewed bail bonding companies
Gwinnett County Sheriff Keybo Taylor is standing by his decision to not renew the certificates of authority that allow several bail bonding companies to do business in the county on Thursday.
In fact, he issued a statement Thursday in which he said the fact that some of those companies — one of whom holds a video that has prompted a Georgia Bureau of Investigation criminal investigation into his actions — are suing him is actually “evidence that I am taking appropriate action on behalf of Gwinnett County citizens.”
“Removing unfit bond companies is part of my job as sheriff,” Taylor said. “Reforming the criminal justice, means that I must remove the prior failed systems and replace them with something better.”
As sheriff, Taylor has the sole discretion to decide which bail bonding companies receive certificates of authority, which the bonding companies need to have in order to work in that county. Taylor’s decisions concerning the bail bonding companies is the subject of several lawsuits, as well as the GBI investigation.
“The law states that the sheriff determines which bond companies can operate in Gwinnett,” Taylor said. “I will only allow companies that meet my high standards for integrity and that follow the law and the bonding rules.
“As sheriff, I closed companies that failed that standard. Because the old systems are resistant to change, I place my personal and professional reputation on the line. I am embroiled in three lawsuits after a few months of making promised changes.”
Much of Taylor’s statement on Thursday echoes a statement he issued on May 13 as well as statements trial transcripts show he made at hearings involving one of the bonding companies, Anytime Bail Bonding.
Looming large over the entire bail bonding issue is a dispute between Taylor and Anytime Bail Bonding that is taking place in a federal courtroom and a Gwinnett County Superior Court room.
At the heart of that case is the video that has prompted the GBI investigation — which the Georgia Attorney General’s Office is allegedly also involved in.
Anytime Bail Bonding’s owner, Scott Hall, sent the video to the GBI in September 2020.
The short video clip that has been sent to media outlets shows Taylor telling an office manager at Anytime Bail Bonding in 2019 that he will not let bail bonding companies that do not support him operate in the county.
At the time, Taylor was a candidate running to be the first Democrat since 1984 to hold the office of sheriff. He was one of several Democrats running for the office in the 2020 election cycle.
But, the sheriff said the short clip does not show the full context of the conversation that he had with the office manager. Trial transcripts show he has claimed in court that he meant the companies needed to support the programs he planned to put in place, not support his campaign.
“They recorded the entire 20 minute conversation and then deleted everything but 20 seconds,” Taylor said in his statement Thursday. “They deliberately took my statements out of context to distort the truth. The deleted portion would prove that I did nothing wrong and that is why they deleted it.
“During the campaign, they made a false accusation of extortion to the GBI and provided the tampered, redacted video as their proof. Later, Scott Hall lied to me about it. I refused to allow Anytime Bonding to continue operating because of their lack of integrity, deceptive practices and dishonesty.”
But, Anytime Bail Bonding’s attorney, Bob Cheeley, told the Daily Post on May 14 that he did not see where the sheriff had the grounds to prevent the bonding company from continuing to operate in Gwinnett.
“On Jan. 1, the first day the sheriff was in office, he retaliated against Scott Hall for giving the GBI that video that showed the sheriff trying to extort money from Scott Hall’s company,” Cheeley said.
Cheeley also defended Hall’s reputation, saying Anytime Bail Bonding has “been operating in Gwinnett County for 26 years, has a stellar record, no infractions ever with the sheriff’s department,” and adding that “Butch Conway, the former sheriff, spoke very highly of Scott Hall, and his integrity.”
A judge sided with Taylor in one case heard earlier this week in Gwinnett County Superior Court, however. That case was filed by another bonding company, The Bondsman.
The judge sided with Taylor in a summary judgement, citing the bonding company had been several months late in meeting financial obligations. As he issued his ruling on Tuesday, Senior Judge David Sweat said, “The court cannot say there was a gross misuse of discretion when the bonding company had outstanding obligations.”
Taylor stressed that sentiment in his statement on Thursday.
“I won this lawsuit because the judge ruled that I had the legal authority to close the bonding business that failed to follow the bonding rules,” the sheriff said. “I appreciate the outpouring of support from the community as I fend off lawsuits, lies and attacks on my integrity. I will do as I promised to do; I will bring criminal justice reform.”
Another lawsuit, filed about A Action Bail Bonds LLC, is pending in Gwinnett Superior Court.
Gwinnett Commission Chairwoman Nicole Love Hendrickson rescinds mask mandate in county facilities
Visitors to Gwinnett County government-owned facilities no longer have to wear a face mask to get in the front door.
The county announced on its website Friday that Commission Chairwoman Nicole Love Hendrickson issued an executive order a day earlier to rescind the mask mandate she put in place earlier this year. In the new order, Hendrickson cited a decline in the number of people testing positive for COVID-19 in Gwinnett, as well as more than one-third of the county’s residents have received at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine.
It also referenced recent guidance from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that says people who have been fully vaccinated against COVID-19 no longer need to wear a face mask.
“I find that rescinding the Local Emergency Order requiring face masks or face coverings when entering or utilizing county owned or leased facilities is in accordance with CDC guidance, the governor’s executive orders and my local emergency authority and is an appropriate step in the county’s COVID-19 pandemic recovery,” Hendrickson said in the order.
The order applies to any facility owned by Gwinnett County government, such as the Gwinnett Justice and Administration Center, courthouse annexes, police precinct offices, the Gwinnett Animal Welfare and Enforcement shelter, the Beauty P. Baldwin Voter Registration and Elections office, parks and recreation facilities and libraries. It does not, however, extend to school facilities as those are separately run by Gwinnett County Public Schools and Buford City Schools respectively and are, therefore, not under the oversight of Gwinnett County government.
The Georgia Department of Public Health reported on Friday that Gwinnett County’s two-week positivity rate was 56 new cases for every 100,000 residents, which equates to a total of 539 new cases in the last two weeks.
The state health agency also reported that 37% of Gwinnett residents have received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine, and that 30% of the county’s population is fully vaccinated.
Although Hendrickson’s order removes the county government’s face mask mandate, the chairwoman did urge residents to not let their guard down concerning COVID-19.
“Individuals and visitors are strongly encouraged to remain vigilant and follow all CDC guidance with respect to COVID-10 mitigation measures as are applicable to them,” Hendrickson said in the order.
County officials conceded that while face masks will no longer be required in county-owned facilities, some people may not feel comfortable entering buildings where face masks are not required.
“Though masks are no longer required in county facilities, visitors who have not yet been vaccinated are encouraged to continue to take steps to protect themselves, including wearing a mask and staying six feet from others,” county officials said in an announcement about Hendrickson’s order. “Gwinnett County offers a variety of online services that offer residents an alternative to coming into a County facility.”
GCPS names four new principals, one new assistant superintendent of middle schools
The Gwinnett County Board of Education approved several principal appointments, and one district-level appointment, at its meeting Thursday night.
Memorie Reesman will be the principal at yet-to-open Seckinger High School, Melanie Terris will be the new principal at Ivy Creek Elementary School, Lisa Rhodes will be the new principal at Puckett’s Mill Elementary School and Shanti Howard will be the new principal at Shiloh Middle School.
Meanwhile, Northbrook Middle School principal Keith Thompson has been picked to serve as an assistant superintendent of middle schools.
Reesman will become the first principal at Seckinger — which opens in August 2022 — after having served as the principal at Jones Middle School. She has been with Gwinnett County Public Schools since 1992 and her experience includes: being a seventh-grade teacher at Pinckneyville Middle School from 1992 until 1993; a seventh-grade teacher at Lanier Middle School from 1993 until 1994; a sixth-grade teacher at Lawrenceville Middle School from 1995 until 1996; a sixth-eighth grade teacher at Creekland Middle School from 1996 until 2005; a seventh-grade gifted science teacher at Osborne Middle School from 2005 until 2008; a local school technology coordinator at Creekland Middle from 2008 until 2009; an assistant principal at Norcross High School from 2009 until 2015; an associate principal at Norcross High from 2015 until 2016; and principal at Jones Middle from 20016 until her appointment at Seckinger.
In the middle of that tenure, she was a sixth-grade teacher at Venice Area Middle School in Florida for a year, from 1994 until 1995.
Reesman holds a bachelor’s degree in elementary education from Florida State University, a master’s degree in middle grades, science and social studies from Brenau University and a specialist’s degree in educational administration and supervision from Lincoln Memorial University.
Terris was previously an assistant principal at Ivy Creek from 2005 until her appointment on Thursday. She has been with GCPS since 1997, having served as an 4th grade teacher at Peachtree Elementary School from 1997 until 2001, a fourth-grade teacher at Fort Daniel Elementary School from 2001 until 2004 and an assistant principal at Level Creek Elementary School from 2004 until 2005.
She was also a teacher in the Alamance-Burlington School System in North Carolina from 1996 until 1997.
Terris holds a bachelor’s degree in elementary education from Appalachian State University, a master’s degree in early childhood education from Brenau University and a specialists degree in educational administration and supervision from Lincoln Memorial University.
Rhodes comes to Puckett’s Mill from Pharr Elementary School, where she has been principal since 2017. She worked for Forsyth County schools as a teacher from 1998 until 2002 and has been in Gwinnett County Public Schools since then. She started in GCPS as a teacher at Taylor Elementary School from 2002 until 2007 and served as an administrative intern at Taylor from 2007 until 2008 and then as an assistant principal at the school from 2008 until 2017.
She holds a bachelor’s degree in early childhood education from the University of Georgia, a master’s degree in administration and policy from the University of Georgia and a specialist’s degree in educational leadership from the University of West Georgia.
Howard comes to Shiloh from the McClure Health Science High School, where she has been an assistant principal since 2020.
She has spent her entire career in GCPS, starting as a teacher at Richards Middle School from 1997 until 2009 and then serving as a gifted education teacher at Coach Middle School from 2009 until 2012 and as an assistant principal at Sweetwater Middle School from 2012 until 2020.
She holds a bachelor’s degree in middle school education from the University of Georgia, a master’s degree in middle school education from the University of Georgia, a specialist’s degree in middle school education from the University of Georgia and a doctoral degree in educational leadership and administration from the University of Southern Mississippi.
Thompson joins the district’s central office after having served as Northbrook Middle School’s principal since 2014.
He began his education career in Richmond county Schools, where he was a teacher from 1997 until 2005 and an assistant principal from 2005 until 2009. He joined GCPS in 2009 as an assistant principal at GIVE Center West and served in that role until 2011. He then served as an assistant principal at Osborne Middle School from 2011 until 2014.
He holds a bachelor’s degree in middle grades education from Augusta State University, a master’s degree in educational leadership from Cambridge College and a specialist’s degree in curriculum and instruction and doctoral degree in curriculum and instruction from Argosy University.
Gwinnett school board meeting delayed by 40 minutes after standoff over face masks
The ongoing debate over wearing face masks brought Thursday night’s Gwinnett County Board of Education meeting to a halt for 40 minutes after Board Chairman Everton Blair said he would not start the meeting until everyone put masks on.
Blair began the meeting by stating that district policy requires anyone in a Gwinnett County Public Schools facility is required to wear a mask that covers their mouth and nose, and that anyone who refused to comply with that policy had to leave. He then recessed the meeting for five minutes before announcing that, since several parents still refused to wear masks, the meeting would remain in recess.
“I’m still looking at a lot of people who are not abiding with the county policy currently standing, and so we’re going to have to ask you all to leave, and we’ll stay recessed until you do,” Blair said.
After a 40-minute delay, the board moved to its training room — where it normally holds its work sessions — to hold its business meeting, with people set to be recognized by the board Thursday making up the in-person audience. The meeting was broadcast to people who were still in the board room where the meeting had originally been scheduled to take place.
The board later returned to the main board room — as some audience members shouted “cowards” at them — for public comment, where 58 people were scheduled to speak.
The move to a different room for most of the meeting came after parents who refused to wear masks jeered board members as they tried to plead with the audience to wear masks.
“I do not want to wear this mask, but we are in a very fluid situation right now,” Board member Steve Knudsen said. “The current policy of Gwinnett County Public Schools, through the end of the year and what we’re expecting of our staff and our students is that we finish the year with masks.
“We have a meeting to hold. We value your input …”
“No you don’t,” several parents shouted in response.
“The current policy stands, I would like those of you who I know well and respect to please put on masks,” Knudsen started to say in response before he was drowned out by the audience.
“No,” several audience members shouted back.
At one point, board Vice-Chairwoman Karen Watkins asked for security to intervene, but it was to no avail.
The face mask issue has been a topic that some Gwinnett parents have pushed back on in recent months, and video of one parent protesting the use of masks at last month’s board meeting was circulated on social media and picked up by FOX News. Complicating the matter is the fact that the U.S. Centers for Disease Control has said people who are fully vaccinated against COVID-19 no longer have to wear face masks. Institutions and businesses are not required to strictly follow CDC guidance.
The standoff between the anti-mask audience members and board members capped off a school year marked by protests. Some of the parents seen sitting in the anti-mask group also participated in rallies calling on district leaders to offer an in-person education option at the beginning of the school year last summer.
The school year was also marked by protests aimed at Democrats on the school board by supporters of Superintendent J. Alvin Wilbanks over his future with the district.
The Georgia Department of Public Health reported Friday that 37% of people in Gwinnett have received at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine, and only 30% are fully vaccinated. Those statistics prompted Gwinnett County Commission Chairwoman Nicole Love Hendrickson to rescind a face mask mandate for county government-owned buildings late this past week, but schools are not run by the county government and have their own separate rules. As a result, Hendrickson’s decision does not apply to the schools.
The county announced on its website on Friday that Commission Chairwoman Nicole Love Hendrickson issued an executive order a day earlier to rescind the mask mandate she put in place earlier this year.
But, state Rep. Rebecca Mitchell, D-Snellville, made a presentation to the board in which she said mitigation strategies, such as wearing face masks, have worked in stemming the tide of the pandemic.
“I’ve spent quite a bit of the last year learning about masks and that they’re efficacious in reducing COVID transmissions, even while they’re insufficient as a sole control strategy,” said Mitchell, who is an infectious disease epidemiologist.
The lawmaker said new CDC guidelines for schools recommends district provide two prevention strategies: one is practicing social distancing and “universal and correct” face mask usage by people who can wear them. Her presentation included a slide featuring Georgia Department of Public Health data that shows 67,441 Georgia kids between the ages of 10 and 17 have gotten COVID-19, and that 709 kids have been hospitalized and seven children have died from the disease.
“I think the CDC guidelines emphasizes several elements,” Mitchell said. “One is that children do get COVID.”
Mitchell also said guidance could change as COVID-19 variants emerge, and that the variant that is currently dominant is not the same variant that was dominant two months ago.
But, the opponents of face masks came to the board meeting organized. Several anti-mask audience members on Thursday night wore T-shirts with the slogan “Unmask our children” on them, or waved signs containing the same slogan.
Several anti-mask parents shouted at board members and got into heated arguments with audience members who supported the district’s face mask policy.
Statements made by anti-mask audience member ranged from pro-abortion slogans to popular memes from the 2010’s.
“My body, my choice,” one parent shouted.
“Bye Felicia,” another audience member shouted.
Many anti-mask audience members mainly vented their frustration at the board for making them wear masks.
“We pay your salaries,” one audience member shouted.
Another person shouted, “If we don’t make a stand now, they are going to step on us forever. This is not civil disobedience, this is standing our ground.”
Braselton couple faces federal prosecution on allegations of filing fake economic impact loan applications
A Braselton couple has been indicted for allegedly filing fraudulent CARES Act loan applications with the federal government to get millions of dollars.
Paul, 63, and Michelle Kwak, 60, were indicted Tuesday. They are accused of going to the U.S. Small Business Administration and filing more than 70 Economic Impact Disaster Impact Loan applications for shell companies that had no operations and no employees. About half of those applications were successful, which resulted in the Kwaks allegedly getting more than $4 million in loans, which were created by the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security — or CARES — Act.
“Fraudulent applications divert the limited pool of funds Congress allocated for pandemic relief from legitimate businesses in need of assistance,” said Acting U.S. Attorney Kurt R. Erskine. “By defrauding the Small Business Administration, the defendants harmed hardworking business owners whom the CARES Act was intended to help.”
The loan applications require applicants show revenues generated by the business over the course of the preceding year, and to list the number of people who work for the company. The applicant must certify the information provided in the application is correct and that they are indeed eligible to apply for the loan, and certifying the application’s accuracy while knowingly providing false information is considered an act of perjury.
Paul Kwak allegedly posted multiple videos on YouTube that are related to the case, according to federal prosecutors. One such video, which was called “EIDL, disaster assistance you don’t have to pay back” in Korean, showed Kwak reportedly claiming that people could apply for thousands of dollars in federal assistance using only their electronic signature with needing collateral or co-signers. In the video, Kwak allegedly claimed he had a client who had received $150,000 in Economic Impact Disaster Loan assistance.
The Federal Bureau of Investigation in investigating the case and Assistant U.S. Attorney Michael S. Qin is the prosecutor working on it, according to the U.S. Department of Justice.
“This alleged fraud is especially concerning because it takes advantage of a federal program set up to assist legitimate small businesses who need assistance to survive during a pandemic,” FBI Atlanta Special Agent in Charge Chris Hacker said. “The FBI is especially vigilant of such abuse and are making it a priority to make sure government assistance goes only to those who deserve it.”
SBA OIG’s Eastern Region Special Agent in Charge Amaleka McCall-Brathwaite said, “Lying to gain access to economic stimulus funds will be met with justice. SBA OIG will relentlessly pursue evidence of fraud against SBA’s programs aimed at assisting the nation’s small businesses struggling with the pandemic challenges. I want to thank the U.S. Attorney’s Office for its leadership and dedication to pursuing justice.”
Commission Chairwoman Nicole Love Hendrickson announces new equity plans for Gwinnett County
Gwinnett County is putting equity plans in place for its redevelopment of Gwinnett Place Mall as well as addressing disparities in how different members of the county’s diverse community are served, according to county commission Chairwoman Nicole Love Hendrickson.
Hendrickson announced two new equity plans on Wednesday as she addressed attendees at the Gwinnett Chamber’s inaugural Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Summit. One is the Gwinnett Place Mall Redevelopment Equity Plan and the other is the Gwinnett County Equity Action Plan.
“Diversity defines Gwinnett. The County is committed to putting policies and practices in place that not only embrace our diversity, but also harness its energy, creativity and innovative spirit through equity and inclusion,” Hendrickson said. “Today, I call on all Gwinnett business leaders to think about diversity in their own organizations, and I challenge them to use an equity lens as they move their businesses forward.
“Gwinnett County Government will rise up to meet this challenge, and I hope that our community and business partners will do the same, because if no one is left behind, then we can truly say that Gwinnett is the preferred community where everyone thrives.”
The plans are the latest announcements in Gwinnett County government’s ongoing efforts to address equity. In late March, Hendrickson confirmed to the Daily Post during the county commission’s retreat in Athens that the county was looking to create a chief equity officer position to ensure county services were distributed equitably.
The county’s equity action plan will be designed to make the county an equitable and inclusive governance model by serving as a living document with action steps the county can follow to be a more welcoming and inclusive place. It would review the county’s current policies, programs, initiatives, systems and processes for operations to make sure they do no impact Gwinnettians, businesses or other stakeholders in disparate ways, and outline an organizational structure to handle equity issues.
There will also be a training plan put in place so county employees can continually learn “with a focus on building a common language and shared knowledge about diversity, equity and inclusion.”
Gwinnett has issued a request for proposals to look for a consultant who will work with the county on the plan, and RFPs will be accepted through June 8. The RFP is available for review at GCGA.us/EquityRFP.
“The County has taken strides to address inequities in our community with programs like Project RESET 2.0, the mass vaccination center at Gwinnett Place Mall and the Gwinnett Entrepreneur Center, but we also know that there is still much work to be done,” Commission Vice-Chairwoman Marlene Fosque said. “The equity action plan will provide recommendations that will assist us in identifying quantifiable steps we can take that will cultivate inclusion, equity, diversity and fairness for everyone who lives, works or plays here.”
Meanwhile, the Gwinnett Place Mall Redevelopment Equity Plan will be developed with HR&A Advisors to make sure the redevelopment of the mall property offers multi-cultural communities around the mall — an area that is home to several businesses that serve various Asian groups, such as Korean, Vietnamese and Chinese communities — have a chance to thrive because of the redevelopment and are not displaced as a result of it.
“Our Inclusive Cities practice is always looking to partner with communities willing to tackle the tough questions around equitable development,” said Andrea Batista Schlesinger, who leads the HR&A Inclusive Cities practice. “We applaud Gwinnett County on their plan to ensure equity and inclusion are at the core of their work by offering diverse communities power and voice not just in planning, but also in the development process. The County’s proactive leadership and meaningful community engagement around redevelopment and economic opportunity is more than just the usual lip service. It will truly allow a more open, inclusive process and set Gwinnett up to be a leader in metro Atlanta’s post-COVID economic recovery.”
The Gwinnett Place Community Improvement District will also work with the county and HR&A Advisors — who will convene a Community Partner Advisory Board to help develop the plan — on the effort.
“We look forward to collaborating with the County and HR&A Advisors on this effort,” Gwinnett Place CID Executive Director Joe Allen said. “An opportunity as unique and impactful as this requires an equally unique and impactful plan. We’re ready to engage our area’s rich diversity of community organizations and Gwinnett residents to understand their needs and ensure that everyone thrives through this transformational redevelopment of the Gwinnett Place Mall site.”
Hendrickson’s announcement of the plans was heralded by other commissioners after the summit. Equity was a topic that came up often during the commission’s planning retreat in Athens earlier this year and helped shape the county’s new vision of being a preferred destination where all people can thrive, regardless of their ethnicity, race, gender, identity, religion or sexual orientation.
“These plans will align with two of our core values, equity and inclusivity,” said Commissioner Kirkland Carden, whose district includes the Gwinnett Place Mall area. “The Gwinnett Place Mall area has long been considered the heart of Gwinnett County, and it is imperative that we listen to every voice to ensure that the redevelopment of the mall – this most valuable asset – involves the entire community and gives everyone an opportunity to thrive.”
Commissioner Ben Ku said, “Our county is known for innovation, and I believe that’s only possible because of the diversity of life experiences our residents bring to the table. Giving all residents, no matter their background, an equitable opportunity to succeed in this county has the potential to lead to more world-class achievements — and it’s also just the right thing to do.”
And, Commissioner Jasper Watkins said, “Every day, we work to uphold the Gwinnett Standard of excellence in our policies and practices. The Gwinnett Standard means going above and beyond what’s expected, setting the bar high and always pushing to raise it higher. Our county is already exemplary in terms of diversity; now is the time to set the Gwinnett Standard for equity and inclusion.”
GSMST student receives $40,000 scholarship, internship from Amazon
A Gwinnett School of Mathematics, Science and Technology student is getting a lot of money from online giant Amazon to pursue a college education.
Sierra Frisbee received a $40,000 scholarship from Amazon — as well as a guaranteed internship after her freshman year of college — so she can pursue an undergraduate degree in computer science. She is one of 100 Amazon Future Engineer scholarship recipients who will receive money intended to cover four years of their college education.
And, in true Amazon fashion, Frisbee received the news when her scholarship certificate was delivered to the school by Amazon’s fully-electric delivery system, Scout, delivered it in a package that it brought to her school.
“Sierra has been a wonderful student to watch grow; she is enthusiastic, inquisitive, independent, and intelligent, but what stands out most of all is her unbridled passion to engineer ways to always be helping others. It is this passion that will help her change the world for the better,” Frisbee’s teacher, Laura Gray, wrote in her letter nominating the student for the scholarship.
Scholarship recipients are chosen based on their academic achievement, leadership, school and community activity involvement, work experience, financial need and future goals.
Frisbee is no stranger to being recognized.
A computer science and robotics student, was named GSMST’s Career and Technical Education Student of the Year and was a finalist for Gwinnett County Public Schools’ CTE Student of the Year. She has also earned first-place honors in the robotics and intelligent machines category at the ISEF Regional Science and Engineering Fair, both mentored and led a Future Lego League Robotics team that won a Regional and State Championship. Her FTC teams have been led by her to several championships during her four years at GSMST as well.
Frisbee also completed a Job Shadow Experience through Women in Technology Girls at IBM and the Weather Company in the summer of 2018. As part of the program, she used the Watson computer to wrote artificial intelligence programs. She built and coded an LED piano embedded systems project as part of the MIT Online Science, Technology, and Engineering Community Symposium as well, and spent three summers serving as an intern in Georgia Tech’s Research Institute Aerospace, Transportation, and Advanced Systems Laboratory.
And, oh yeah, Frisbee will be attending a college with a prestigious academic reputation in the fall. You might have heard of it — it’s called Harvard University.