ATLANTA — The attorney for a pair of TV celebrities apparently targeted by the Georgia Revenue Department told Channel 2 Action News the agents in question thought they were untouchable.
One Atlanta attorney is focused on OSI’s intense interest in Todd and Julie Chrisley. “They had specifically targeted the Chrisleys because of their celebrity,” Chris Anulewicz told Belcher.
Channel 2 investigative reporter Richard Belcher and The Atlanta Journal-Constitution began reporting on the abuses of the Department of Revenue’s Office of Special Investigations 18 months ago.
Josh Waites, the agent who headed OSI, was fired last year just as Channel 2 Action News and the AJC were about to report that he has falsified his education credentials. We reported last week that the state attorney general’s office has an open criminal investigation of Waites for his suspected mishandling of millions of dollars seized by his office.
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Anulewicz had on his desk a copy of a bombshell report by the state inspector general, which concluded that Waites and his team were captives of a cowboy culture that was out of control.
“I think the cowboy culture is that the Office of Special Investigations at the Department of Revenue started to believe they were untouchable,” said Anulewicz.
The Inspector General’s report concluded that Waites’ team seized and improperly held on to more than $5.3 million during its investigations and illegally spent more than $3 million of that money. That money is the subject of the ongoing criminal investigation by the attorney general.
But Anulewicz is focused on the supposed privacy of personal tax records.
Law enforcement agencies can use a specific federal law to gain access to confidential tax information, but they have to be very specific about why they’re doing it. Anulewicz told Belcher the OSI went way off the reservation to gain access to the Chrisleys’ records.
“In order to get that information, you have to certify either that the case is about money laundering or terrorism, and there’s certainly no allegation whatsoever about the Chrisleys regarding that,” said Anulewicz.
The Inspector General’s report concluded that Waites’ team gave false information to gain access to the Chrisleys’ personal financial information. The couple are now suing Waites for the alleged misuse of their personal information.
“Any information that relates to their taxes is very, very protected under both federal and state law, and Mr. Waites disclosed that information to third parties including the news media,” Anulewicz told Belcher, adding that he can prove leaks.
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Anulewicz said some of that information was leaked to reporters at Channel 2. A search of Channel 2′s news archives shows that Waites’ name showed up in more than 250 stories. Anulewicz said the OSI was wildly out of control. “They thought that they could go after anybody for anything. That type of cowboy culture put all the citizens in the state at risk,” Anulewicz said.
Last week, the Department of Revenue fired another agent who played a role in gaining access to the Chrisleys’ financial information.
The attorney for Waites has called the inspector general’s report “misleading, incomplete and just plain wrong.”
The Chrisleys are facing federal tax and banking charges, but no state charges.
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