ATLANTA — Reality TV stars Todd and Julie Chrisley on Tuesday filed a federal lawsuit accusing a high-ranking Georgia tax official of unfairly targeting them in a "bogus" investigation.
The plaintiffs, known for the USA Network show "Chrisley Knows Best," recently paid $150,000 to settle tax evasion allegations with the Georgia Department of Revenue, but the couple maintain they did nothing wrong and have incurred great legal expense because of the investigation.
The lawsuit claims Joshua Waites, director of the state agency's special investigations unit, unfairly targeted the Chrisleys so he could bask in the media spotlight that came with taking down television stars.
"He is truly a rogue," the Chrisleys' lawyer, former Georgia Attorney General Michael Bowers, said at a Tuesday news conference to announce the litigation. "And I do not use that term lightly."
No one from the Chrisley family attended the conference.
Waites didn't immediately respond to a request for comment.
"Our investigators are fair and impartial in their work with a commitment to ensuring compliance with the law," Georgia Department of Revenue spokesman William Gaston said. "This development is disappointing and their accusations are unfounded, but we will decline to provide any further comment on this matter."
The suit is against Waites, not the Department of Revenue.
The suit, soaked in high drama, might make for a reality show:
It says Waites tried to get dirt on the Chrisleys — who remain under federal indictment on tax-related charges — by cultivating a relationship with Todd Chrisley's estranged daughter, Lindsie Chrisley Campbell. In the process, he allegedly broke federal law by sharing confidential tax and grand jury information, the suit claims. Waites sent numerous text messages to Campbell, giving her a blow-by-blow of the investigation and also revealing that his agents had put a photo of her father on a dart board and a punching bag, it claims.
Bowers exhibited images of text exchanges during the Tuesday news conference.
The state Department of Revenue had suspected the Chrisleys evaded about $2 million in state taxes between 2008 and 2016, but in the settlement, the agency conceded that wasn't true, according to Bowers.
In detailing how Waites allegedly mishandled the Chrisley investigation, the suit also accuses Waites of using harsh tactics against "numerous individuals and businesses on dubious tax-evasion claims." The suit claims Waites has worked with prosecutors' offices across the state to bring such cases and then use the civil forfeiture funds to create a so-called "slush fund" for his office. But the Chrisleys' attorneys acknowledge they don't know how the funds have been spent, and they have made no allegations that the money was used inappropriately.
A federal indictment from August on tax fraud charges is still pending against the Chrisleys. The allegations in that case are from 2007 to 2012.
"Todd and Julie Chrisley are charged not only with defrauding a number of banks by fraudulently obtaining millions of dollars in loans, but also with allegedly cheating taxpayers by actively evading paying federal taxes on the money they earned," U.S. Attorney Byung J. "BJay" Pak said recently. "Celebrities face the same justice that everyone does."
The couple have pleaded not guilty.
The Chrisleys' suit seeks unspecified damages from Waites. Bowers said anything they are awarded will be donated to the Institute of Justice in Washington, D.C., which helps citizens who feel they've been unfairly treated by the government.
"It can affect any citizen of this state," Bowers said. "This kind of conduct simply cannot be tolerated."
The Chriselys' lawsuit also mentions Channel 2 Action News and our 2017 investigation.
Joshua Sharpe with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution contributed to this article.
Cox Media Group