Newton County Commission Chairman Charged With Money Laundering

Newton County Commission Chairman Marcello Banes and a local real estate broker have been indicted on federal charges of laundering money obtained through a fraud scheme.

Banes, 48, and Stephanie Lindsey, 52, both of Covington, are charged with conspiracy to launder money and with money laundering. A federal grand jury also indicted Lindsey for income tax fraud and charged Banes with lying to FBI special agents.

According to the indictment, Banes and Lindsey misled a company interested in purchasing about 40 acres of land from the Joint Development Authority of Jasper County, Morgan County, Newton County and Walton County in 2018 about the terms of a brokerage agreement.

The company was led to believe that a commission resulting from the agreement would be paid only to Lindsey. In reality, Lindsey was planning to pay most of the commission to Banes. Had the company’s owners known Banes would receive any of the commission, they would not have entered into the brokerage agreement, according to the indictment.

As chairman of the Newton County Commission, Banes represented Newton County on the development authority. At an authority board meeting in 2019, Banes voted to allow the purchase without disclosing that he was going to receive $100,000 of the $150,000 commission through a newly formed business entity he and Lindsey created.

Banes subsequently used a substantial amount of that money to pay for a new house he was building in Newton County,

“By allegedly laundering proceeds obtained from a fraud conspiracy, these defendants violated the trust placed in them by their client, their constituents, and their fellow commissioners,” said Ryan Buchanan, U.S. attorney for the Northern District of Georgia.

“Public officials who undermine the public’s faith in our institutions by abusing their power for personal gain must be held accountable.”

Besides the money laundering offense, Lindsey is also charged with two federal tax violations for allegedly claiming false business deductions to reduce her tax liability for the $150,000 payment.

Banes is also charged with lying to FBI special agents by falsely telling them he was unaware that Lindsey was involved as a broker in the land deal.

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