DeKalb County businessman and community leader Matthew Ware will begin serving a six-year federal prison sentence for his involvement in a money laundering drug trafficking operation. He is scheduled to report to a minimum-security prison camp on Jan. 9.
The 57-year-old Tucker resident was sentenced in federal court over 12 weeks ago, but news of his conviction and sentence was not widely known until Christmas Eve when several media outlets picked up on the story and began reporting it.
The news shocked and baffled many in South DeKalb as they shopped and prepared for the holidays. Many thought the reports involved a different Matthew Ware, not the one from South DeKalb, where Ware was well known and well liked.
Ware responded to the news reports by personally contacting business associates and others, including members of the 100 Black Men of DeKalb County, a mentoring organization for youth that he headed for two years. Ware stepped down as president of the organization in mid-December, handing the reigns to Cornelius Stafford, who was supposed to take the helm this month. Ware did not reveal his plight to leaders of the 100 when he stepped down. The organization could not be reached for comment, despite attempts to reach its attorney, Bernard Taylor.
Ware contacted On Common Ground News the day after Christmas, telling its publishers that he did not expect the case to turn out the way that it did. Ware said he was the only defendant of 14 involved in the case who fought the charges and he said he would continue to fight. The other defendants plead guilty.
Ware, who owns Padgett Business Services in Lithonia, had served as the accountant for Jiles and Shannon Johnson, a husband and wife team who owned KC Pit BBQ restaurant in Sandy Springs. The Johnsons were convicted of drug trafficking, money laundering and other charges. Ware said he didn’t know about the Johnsons’ illegal activity.
“They had a restaurant. I thought they were running a legitimate business,” Ware said. “How was I supposed to know what they were doing?”
The drug operation came to light in 2010 when authorities caught Jiles Johnson and two accomplices attempting to deliver 35 kilograms of cocaine to Philadelphia.
Authorities say as a commercial truck driver, Jiles Johnson transported cocaine imported from Mexico to California, Kansas City, Philadelphia and Washington, D.C. Johnson drove on behalf of cocaine distributor Mark Walker, 46, who had residences in Cumming and Philadelphia. The Johnsons covered up the money they were earning illegally by using the restaurant as a front.
Authorities said Ware accepted bags of cash in excess of $10,000 from Jiles Johnson and loaned it to some of his accounting firm’s clients. The clients repaid the loans with checks made to Johnson and his businesses.
As the drug money flowed, Ware had financial planner Jacques Degaule, 52, of Atlanta, to deposit more than $7 million in drug proceeds to banks in three states, Attorney Sally Quillian Yates said in court documents.
Linda Tong, a 68-year-old Alpharetta real estate broker, made “structured” deposits of over $500,000 into bank accounts, breaking the money down into smaller cash deposits. Tong purchased real estate on behalf of Johnsons. She was sentenced to three years probation for her part in the operation.
Jiles Johnson was sentenced to 15 years and 5 years on supervised release after pleading guilty to conspiracy to possess cocaine, money laundering and distribution of cocaine, authorities said.
Shannon Johnson pleaded guilty to one count of money laundering conspiracy and was sentenced to three years in federal prison followed by three years supervised release.
Degaule pleaded guilty to interstate racketeering charges and was sentenced to three years in federal prison.
“All of the defendants in this case are deserving of the sentences handed down. Several of these individuals masked themselves as legitimate businessmen, while everyone lined their pockets with excessive profits gained from drug trafficking,” Harry S. Somers, special agent in charge of the DEA Atlanta Field Division, said in a statement.