- Associated Press - Monday, November 9, 2015

ATLANTA (AP) - A federal judge on Monday sentenced a former Georgia state representative and civil rights activist to a year and a day in prison for fraud.

U.S. District Judge Amy Totenberg also gave ex-state Rep. Tyrone Brooks two years of supervised release following his imprisonment, plus 250 hours of community service to be done in a school or youth education program.

Totenberg had taken the weekend to think about the sentence after hearing from Brooks and lawyers for both sides on Friday.

The Atlanta Democrat pleaded guilty in April to one count of filing a false tax document and no contest to five counts of mail and wire fraud. Prosecutors had asked for two years in prison, plus restitution, while Brooks’ lawyers asked for probation.

“This is a very difficult, sad case,” Totenberg said. “Mr. Brooks has given of himself to the citizens of this state, and in particular to minorities and the poor, throughout his lifetime.”

But those good works cannot wipe away Brooks’ false claims to charitable donors about how the money he collected from them would be spent, Totenberg added.

Totenberg added that she is sure that Brooks has more good work ahead of him.

“While he may have retired, there is nothing retiring about Mr. Brooks,” she said.

Totenberg has scheduled a separate hearing on restitution in January. Brooks won’t have to report to prison until after that hearing.

Prosecutors acknowledged Brooks’ good works but said he used the accumulated goodwill to carry out fraudulent schemes.

“There’s never going to be a good sentence for a civil rights icon like Tyrone Brooks,” U.S. Attorney John Horn said. “It’s incredibly difficult to contemplate him serving time in prison. The problem is that, as Judge Totenberg noted, his behavior is unacceptable, and so we feel strongly that the sentence conveys the wrongfulness of his conduct both to him and the community.”

Former Gov. Roy Barnes, an attorney for Brooks, said he didn’t believe the case merited incarceration, but he added that Totenberg was extremely thorough and said he has “nothing but high remarks” for her. Barnes said he and his client hadn’t decided whether to appeal.

Barnes said Brooks would not address the media Monday.

Prosecutors alleged that Brooks solicited about $1 million in contributions from the mid-1990s to 2012 from individuals and corporate donors, saying the money would be used to fight illiteracy in poor communities and for other specific causes. The contributions were made to the Georgia Association of Black Elected Officials, which he had led since 1994, and to Universal Humanities, a tax-exempt organization he founded in 1990.

Prosecutors said Brooks used the money for personal expenses, such as utility bills, cable payments, dry cleaning bills, clothing and restaurant meals, and there was no evidence it was used for the specific projects Brooks outlined in his solicitation letters.

Brooks, 70, had been a civil rights activist since his teens and state lawmaker since 1981.

As a lawmaker, Brooks was best known for his nearly two-decade struggle to remove the Confederate battle cross from Georgia’s state flag, which saw success in 2001. He also prodded federal authorities to reopen an investigation into an infamous 1946 lynching of four people at Moore’s Ford in Walton County.

In a brief statement to the court Friday, Brooks said he took full responsibility for mistakes that were made and said he regretted them.

The defense argued Brooks’ whole life has been devoted to fighting for civil rights and poor communities. His donors gave because they knew he worked tirelessly and they supported the broad spectrum of issues he fought for rather than a specific cause, they said.

Brooks was not greedy or selfish, but was a bad bookkeeper who unwisely comingled his own money with donated funds, failing to keep records to show he was operating in good faith, his lawyers argued.

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