DeKalb County

In rare move, grand jury clears former Revenue agent citing ‘malicious prosecution’ against him

DEKALB COUNTY, Ga. — A DeKalb County grand jury has delivered a shocking setback to the Georgia Attorney General’s Office. Meeting in secret -- as grand jurors always do -- the jurors rejected criminal charges against a former state revenue agent and also concluded that prosecutors had acted maliciously.

Legal experts told Channel 2 investigative reporter Richard Belcher that the move is extraordinarily rare.

The AG’s Office expressed disappointment, calling the decision, “an extremely peculiar outcome” and said -- without providing details -- that the “office will review any irregular activity related to this process.”

Belcher, along with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, began investigating Josh Waites two years ago.

Waites ran the State Revenue Department’s Office of Special Investigations until he was fired in March 2020 for falsifying his education credentials. Channel 2 Action News and the AJC broke that story.

We also reported that Waites’ unit held onto more than $5 million in seized assets that should have gone straight into the state treasury.

The first official investigation was conducted by the Georgia Inspector General’s Office which turned its files over to the AG last fall in anticipation that the state would seek to indict Waites.

Tuesday, it tried and was slapped down -- hard.

Waites was a law enforcement whirlwind. When Channel 2 Action News began looking at his activities, we already had more than 250 references to him in our archives.

Assigned to sniff out tax fraud statewide, Waites and his team racked up an impressive series of cases, many involving coin operated game machines. But it unraveled with his firing and criminal investigation.

Tuesday, he turned the tables and delivered an embarrassing setback for the state Attorney General’s office.


“There’s an old saying: a prosecutor can indict a ham sandwich. But we didn’t want to be their next meal,” former Bibb County DA David Cooke told Belcher the day after the grand jurors lifted the cloud from over his client.

“To have the grand jury write ‘malicious prosecution unanimous verdict’ means that all those hours and sleepless nights didn’t go to waste,” Cooke said,

“I’ve been doing this for 27 years now, and I have never seen a grand jury foreman or anybody on a grand jury write ‘malicious prosecution’ on the face of an indictment. Don’t know that I’ll ever see it again,” said veteran Atlanta defense attorney Noah Pine, who is not involved in the Waites’ case.

It’s a first for Cooke as well, and he agrees with the grand jury’s extraordinary finding that prosecutors were motivated by malice.

“Every official and every person who touched this file along the way bears responsibility for this hateful prosecution,” Cooke told Belcher.

Before the AG’s office presented its case to the DeKalb grand jury, the Inspector’s General’s Office report said Waites admitted misstating his education level and admitted altering a key email about the legality of holding millions of dollars of seized assets in Waites’ office at Revenue, rather than sending the money directly to the state treasury as required by law.

Cooke dismisses their findings.

“This investigation spent two years going through every single expenditure that ever had to do anything with that account or Josh Waites, and the indictment they came up with was about a job application and an email. That should tell you everything you need to know,” Cooke said.

Pines told Belcher that a defendant can go after the prosecutor for costs if there is a finding of malice by grand jurors.

Cooke strongly suggests that is what Waites will do.

“We’re not through,” the former prosecutor told Belcher.

The AG’s Office emailed that it is “disappointed with the decision of the grand light of the facts before it. We stand by the case that we presented. We reject any opinion... that this …was malicious in any way.”

The office later amended its statement by adding a line that suggests more than it details.

“This is an extremely peculiar outcome, and our office will review any irregular activity related to this process,” wrote a spokesperson.

The statement didn’t say what the “review” will involve. State law allows prosecutors to make two presentations to a grand jury.

The Attorney General’s office has not said whether it plans to return to the grand jury with the proposed charges against a Josh Waites.