Newton County Officials Indicted for Money Laundering and Fraud

Newton County Officials Indicted for Money Laundering and Fraud
Marcello Banes and Stephanie Lindsey

Marcello Banes, Chairman of the Newton County Board of Commissioners, and Stephanie Lindsey, a real estate broker and attorney, have been indicted by a federal grand jury for conspiring to launder money obtained from wire fraud and honest services wire fraud.

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

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

“This is a case of a public official breaking the public’s trust to enrich himself and a realtor who did not serve her client, but instead, assisted the public official in breaking the law,” said Demetrius Hardeman, Special Agent in Charge, IRS Criminal Investigation, Atlanta Field Office. “Criminal Investigation special agents, our law enforcement partners, and the U.S. Attorney’s office are working together to hold those who break the law accountable.”

According to U.S. Attorney Buchanan, the indictment and other court information allege the following details: In 1999, Jasper, Morgan, Newton, and Walton Counties established a Joint Development Authority (JDA) to create an industrial area to attract industries to bring jobs and investment to the region. The JDA is controlled by an eight-member board of directors, with two members from each of the four counties. Marcello Banes, as the Chairman of the Newton County Board of Commissioners, represented Newton County on the JDA.

In 2018, a company identified in the indictment as “Company A” expressed interest in purchasing approximately 40 acres of the JDA’s land for commercial development. Banes responded to Company A’s interest by coordinating a brokerage agreement between Company A and Lindsey, where Company A would pay Lindsey’s CSL Realty Group (CSL) $150,000 upon completing the purchase.

The indictment alleges that at the time Company A entered this brokerage agreement, Banes and Lindsey misled Company A into believing that the commission was solely for Lindsey. Neither disclosed to Company A that Lindsey would pay most of the commission to Banes contingent on JDA approval of the sale. Had Company A’s owners known Banes would receive any commission, they would not have entered the agreement.

At a JDA board meeting on January 22, 2019, Banes voted with other members to approve the sale, allegedly without disclosing to the JDA that Lindsey would funnel $150,000 from Company A to him upon completion of the sale.

Company A’s purchase was finalized on March 1, 2019. Although Lindsey was absent from the closing and neither she nor CSL were mentioned in the closing documents, Lindsey contacted Company A the following day to collect the $150,000 payment. Shortly after, Lindsey allegedly transferred $100,000 of it to Banes through a newly formed business entity they created. Banes reportedly used a substantial portion of that payment toward constructing a new house in Newton County.

In addition to money laundering, Lindsey faces charges of federal tax violations for allegedly filing false income tax returns claiming business deductions for the $150,000 payment.

Banes is also charged with making false statements to FBI agents during a 2023 interview, allegedly denying knowledge of Lindsey’s involvement as a broker for the land sale to Company A.

Marcello C. Banes, 48, and Stephanie R. Lindsey, 52, both of Covington, Georgia, were charged with conspiracy to launder money obtained from wire fraud and honest services wire fraud, and with money laundering. Lindsey was additionally indicted for federal income tax fraud, and Banes for making materially false statements to FBI special agents.

The public is reminded that an indictment only contains charges and defendants are presumed innocent until proven guilty in court.

The investigation is being conducted jointly by the Federal Bureau of Investigation and Internal Revenue Service Criminal Investigation.

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