A Rockdale County man and Habersham County business owner faces 20 months in a federal prison and must pay more than $48,000 for sending the Environmental Protection Agency on what government prosecutors called "a wild goose chase."
But an attorney for Charles "Ricky" Tomlin said he plans to appeal.
Tomlin was found guilty in December of making false claims that the Environmental Protection Agency had fined his business $272,000 for environmental grievances.
Prosecutors called the scheme an attempt to avoid paying rent on his auto repair business. It was a lie that wasn't a federal crime until the EPA spent time and money trying to figure out whether it had a rogue agent or someone impersonating an agent who was extorting money from area businesses.
Tomlin was sentenced in a federal district courtroom in Gainesville on Wednesday by Senior Judge William C. O'Kelley.
Tomlin owns Street Dreams, a vehicle repair business that was once located in Gainesville but has since moved to Mount Airy in Habersham County and then to White County.
He also faces several pending small claims cases in Rockdale County Magistrate Court for unpaid services, since he lives on the western edge of Rockdale County.
In late 2010, Tomlin contacted an agent with Georgia's Environmental Protection Division, claiming the federal agency had fined him for environmental problems on his business' property.
Meanwhile, his landlord said Tomlin did not pay rent on the property, and federal agents said Tomlin refused to cooperate with their investigation.
They later determined that Tomlin made the story up. There had been few cases like it in the country, and attorneys spent much of Wednesday's hearing arguing whether the government could be considered a victim of Tomlin's lies and awarded damages.
Tomlin's attorney David Jones said no and asked O'Kelley to allow Tomlin to serve his sentence outside of prison. He offered several letters to the court to serve as testament to Tomlin's respectability.
Tomlin declined an offer to make a statement on his own behalf, because of medical issues that make it difficult for him to talk, his attorney said. But the defendant did make a written note for his attorney to tell the judge he was "truly sorry" for the situation.
An attorney for the government, Paul Jones, said Tomlin should have to pay money for his crime, arguing that he had plenty of chances to come clean before the EPA spent time and resources investigating his claims.
According to the charges, "instead of doing that, this defendant perpetuated the lie," Paul Jones said, noting that Tomlin had gone as far as providing physical descriptions of the fabricated agents.
Prosecutors said Tomlin had a history of deception, alleging he had lied about military service and saving his sister with a bone marrow transplant.
Prosecutors also pointed out the crowd in the audience who had pending cases against Tomlin.
In Rockdale County, Ray Skinner of Toccoa-based Dan's Painting is looking for $1,950 for unpaid sandblasting services. Cornelia resident Dennis Israel filed after the alleged inadequate repair of his 2006 Honda Accord. John Harrison filed for $10,000 after he found his fully restored 1965 Ford Mustang in pieces after a 17-month run around. Harrison said he has since dismissed his civil case until after a criminal case against Harrison in Habersham County is prosecuted.
Judge O'Kelley ruled in favor of the prosecution and handed Tomlin a 20-month sentence.
He also ordered Tomlin to pay $43,331.49 back to the EPA. Tomlin will also have to pay an additional $5,000 fine and serve three years of parole once he's released from prison.
He has until March 20 to turn himself in. But before that, Tomlin's attorney has 14 days to appeal, which he has promised to do.