President Marcello Banes and Commissioner-elect Stephanie Lindsey were charged with money laundering and fraud

NEWTON COUNTY – Current Newton County Chairman Marcello Banes and his longtime business partner and District 3 Commissioner-elect Stephanie Lindsey have been indicted by a federal grand jury on money laundering and wire fraud charges, U.S. Department of Justice officials announced today.

“By allegedly laundering the proceeds of a fraud conspiracy, these defendants violated the trust placed in them by their client, their constituents, and their fellow commissioners,” U.S. Attorney Ryan K. Buchanan said in a news release. Covington News. “Public officials who undermine public trust in our institutions by abusing their power for personal gain must be held accountable.”

According to the release, Banes and Lindsey are specifically charged with conspiring to launder money obtained through wire fraud and honest services wire fraud. The alleged money laundering took place within the confines of the Joint Development Authority (JDA), which is comprised of representatives from Jasper, Morgan, Walton and Newton counties, according to the release.

Banes, who sits on the JDA board of directors, responded to a request from a company in 2018 that hoped to purchase 40 acres of land for commercial development in the Stanton Springs area. The company, described as “Company A” in the indictment, entered into a brokerage agreement with Lindsey, in which the company would pay Lindsey’s CSL Realty Group $150,000 when the purchase of the parcel was completed.

At the JDA meeting on January 22, 2019, a resolution was passed to transfer the plot to the company, and the purchase was finalized on March 1 of that year.

However, according to the indictment, Banes and Lindsey allegedly misled the company into believing that the $150,000 commission was for Lindsey alone.

The next day, Lindsey contacted the company to collect payment of $150,000. Once payment was made, Lindsey allegedly sent $100,000 directly to Banes through a mutual business entity.

“The indictment alleges that, at the time Company A entered into this brokerage agreement, Banes and Lindsey misled Company A into believing that the commission was intended solely for Lindsey,” according to the press release. “Neither Banes nor Lindsey disclosed to Company A that Lindsey would pay the majority of the commission, which was contingent on the JDA voting to approve the sale, to Banes.”

The press release also stated that Banes used a “substantial amount” of that payment for a new home he was building in Newton County.

Additionally, Banes allegedly failed to disclose to the JDA that Lindsey’s CSL Realty Group would be involved in the closing.

The JDA issued a statement condemning the “unethical behavior” alleged in the indictment and distancing itself from the transaction at the center of the allegations.

“The Jasper, Morgan, Newton and Walton County Joint Development Authority (JDA) condemns any unethical behavior alleged in the indictment and believes that those in public service must be held to the highest standards,” the JDA statement said. “The JDA has at all times acted in accordance with the law and disclaims any involvement that may arise from this indictment.”

The statement went on to say, “The JDA was not a party to the transaction through which the alleged illegal activity occurred and was not aware of any such alleged activity by Mr. Banes or Ms. Lindsey occurring. In January 2019, the JDA approved a resolution transferring a 40-acre property to Stanton Springs, LLC pursuant to a 2003 Purchase and Sale Agreement. This third-party private company is not affiliated in any way with the JDA. On March 1, 2019, Stanton Springs, LLC sold the same property to another entity, “Company A.” The alleged illegal activity occurred during the second transaction to which the JDA was not a party.”

The statement concluded by saying, “Since our inception in 1999, the JDA has been committed to upholding the highest moral, ethical and legal standards in all of our operations. Our mission has always been to serve our counties with integrity and to attract high-quality investment and job growth to our communities.”

In addition to the above charges, Lindsey is also charged with two federal tax violations for federal income tax returns filed in 2019. On those returns, Lindsey allegedly claimed false business deductions to reduce her tax liability by paying $150,000.

Banes is also accused of lying to FBI agents in a 2023 interview, in which he told investigators he “did not know” Lindsey was involved in the transaction.

FBI Atlanta Special Agent in Charge Keri Farley also commented on the indictment in a press release.

“Banes and Lindsey undermined the public’s trust in Georgia government and businesses,” said Keri Farley, Special Agent in Charge of the FBI in Atlanta. “This indictment is a stark warning that anyone who violates our laws will be brought to justice.”

Demetrius Hardeman, special agent in charge of the IRS criminal investigation office in Atlanta, added:

“This is a case where a public official betrayed the public trust to enrich himself and a real estate agent who did not serve his client, but instead helped the public official break the law,” Hardeman said. “Special agents with Criminal Investigation, our law enforcement partners and the U.S. Attorney’s Office are working together to hold those who break the law accountable.”

The case is being prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorneys Brent Alan Gray and Bret R. Hobson.

Banes has served as chairman of the Newton County Board of Commissioners since 2017. He was most recently re-elected to a third term in May when he defeated rival Marcus Jordan during the Democratic primary.

Lindsey will become the new District 3 Commissioner after defeating incumbent Alana Sanders in the 2024 Democratic primary election on June 18.

It is unclear what impact these charges will have, if any, on their respective offices.

In a statement sent to News, Banes said he was “not going anywhere” and vowed to clear his name in court.

“I am deeply disappointed by the legal action that has been taken today and look forward to clearing my name and demonstrating my good character. With integrity and faith, I will approach this legal matter and continue to work, honestly, for the citizens of Newton County,” Banes said. “I am not going anywhere and I deeply appreciate the support I am already receiving from my family, friends and the citizens of our county.”

News Lindsey and Newton County were also contacted for comment but did not receive a response.

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