Feds indict Newton County chairman, commissioner-elect

Feds indict Newton County chairman, commissioner-elect

(The Center Square) — A federal grand jury has indicted the Newton County Board of Commissioners chairman and a commissioner-elect on federal charges of conspiring to launder money obtained from wire fraud and honest services wire fraud.

A federal grand jury indicted Marcello Banes, 48, of Covington, the board’s chair, and Stephanie Lindsey, 52, of Covington, a real estate broker and attorney who was elected to the county commission earlier this month, on conspiracy to launder money obtained from wire fraud and honest services wire fraud and money laundering. The grand jury also indicted Lindsey for federal income tax fraud and Banes for making materially false statements to FBI special agents.

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

In 2018, a company prosecutors identified as “Company A” was interested in buying roughly 40 acres of land owned by the Jasper, Morgan, Newton, and Walton Counties Joint Development Authority for commercial development.

Prosecutors say Banes, who represents Newton County on the authority’s eight-member board, coordinated a brokerage agreement between the company and Lindsey. Under the deal, the company would pay Lindsey’s CSL Realty Group $150,000 after the purchase’s completion.

According to a Justice Department news release, Banes and Lindsey led Company A into thinking the commission would go to Lindsey and did not disclose that Lindsey would pay much of the commission to Banes after the sale. The company’s owners would not have agreed had they known Banes would receive part of the commission, prosecutors say.

“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,” U.S. Attorney Ryan K. Buchanan said in a statement. “Public officials who undermine the public’s faith in our institutions by abusing their power for personal gain must be held accountable.”

On Jan. 22, 2019, Banes and other JDA members voted in favor of a resolution to authorize the parcel’s transfer, allowing Company A to buy the land. Prosecutors allege Banes allegedly did not disclose the deal to the JDA and used much of the payment for a new house in Newton County.

“I think as an attorney, as a role model and as a public servant in my community, I literally would never do anything to violate the law and jeopardize my reputation that I’ve built so long in the legal community and my community,” Atlanta News First quoted Lindsey as saying. “And it’s a big disappointment today.”