- Associated Press - Thursday, April 9, 2015

ATLANTA (AP) - Former Georgia state Rep. Tyrone Brooks on Thursday pleaded guilty in federal court in Atlanta to one count of filing a false tax document and no contest to five counts of mail and wire fraud.

The Atlanta Democrat, who was first elected in 1981, resigned his seat earlier Thursday. He was indicted in May 2013 on charges of mail fraud, wire fraud and filing false tax returns. Prosecutors accused Brooks of misappropriating funds meant for charity and using the money to pay personal and family expenses.

Brooks does not have a plea agreement with the government. The remaining 24 counts in the indictment are still pending and prosecutors can pursue them if they choose.

By pleading no contest to five counts, Brooks conceded that the government could prove certain facts that would likely lead a jury to convict him on those counts, but he did not admit guilt. For the purposes of sentencing, however, it will be treated as if he had pleaded guilty to those counts.

U.S. District Judge Amy Totenberg told Brooks pleading no contest could lead to a harsher sentence than a guilty plea because he’s failing to demonstrate an acceptance of responsibility. Totenberg also said she wanted to make sure he understood that a felony conviction would bar him from public office.

“I do, your honor, very well,” Brooks said.

The tax fraud charge carries a possibility of three years in prison, up to a year of supervised release, a fine of up to $250,000 and possible restitution, prosecutor Kurt Erskine told the court. The mail and wire fraud charges each carry a maximum penalty of up to 20 years in prison, up to three years of supervised release, a fine of up to $250,000 and mandatory restitution, Erskine said.

No sentencing date has been set.

The indictment alleged that Brooks solicited about $1 million in contributions from the mid-1990s to 2012 from individuals and corporate donors that he said would be used to fight illiteracy in underserved communities and for other causes.

“Tyrone Brooks has done much good in his life, both as a state legislator and as a civil rights leader, but no one’s good works gives him license to steal,” said acting U.S. Attorney John Horn.

By diverting nearly all the money he collected, Brooks deprived the very people he said he was trying to help get literacy training and other assistance they needed, Horn said.

Brooks’ attorney, Roy Barnes, said the former lawmaker should have paid some taxes and should have made it clear that some of the money he was soliciting would be used for expenses, but he said Brooks has always maintained “there was never intent to deceive.”

The allegations involve Brooks’ relationship with Universal Humanities, a tax-exempt charitable organization he founded in 1990, and the Georgia Association of Black Elected Officials, which is made up of state and local lawmakers. Brooks became president of the group in 1993.

Authorities said Brooks, who was elected to the General Assembly in 1981, used the money for personal and family expenses, ranging from home repairs to credit card bills.

Brooks is accused of raising about $800,000 for Universal Humanities and initially telling donors it was for literacy programs in Georgia and later saying the program had been so successful that the organization wanted to expand it to other southeastern states.

The indictment also charges Brooks with funneling about $300,000 in donations for the Georgia Association of Black Elected Officials to a second secret bank account that he established. Brooks told donors the money was being used to fund group meetings, crime prevention programs, voter registration initiatives, felon rehabilitation programs and literacy programs, the indictment said.

Aside from the misappropriations, Brooks was accused of underreporting his income to the federal government, saying he earned about $35,000 a year. The indictment charged Brooks with filing fraudulent returns between 2008 and 2011.

In a resignation letter addressed to Gov. Nathan Deal, Brooks did not mention the federal charges against him and said he planned “to shift my priorities and transition back to fulltime Civil Human Rights work.”

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