Ex-Atlanta watershed official awaits verdict in federal bribery trial

Prosecutors say ex-official received kickbacks after steering contracts to a design firm

Juror deliberations are underway in the federal bribery trial of former Atlanta Watershed Commissioner Jo Ann Macrina.

On Thursday afternoon, the prosecution and the defense teams outlined their closing arguments after 13 jurors reviewed dozens of documents and listened to 18 witnesses across five days of testimony.

Prosecutors alleged Macrina discussed potential employment with Atlanta and DeKalb County contractor Lohrasb “Jeff” Jafari as a reward for steering millions of dollars in city contracts to his joint venture firm. She allegedly helped the firm win an architectural, engineering and design project worth $11 million in 2015 after the firm received low scores for its 2014 bid.

Macrina also lied to the city and the FBI by initially omitting how Jafari gave her $10,000 in cash, jewelry, a luxury resort room in Dubai, and landscaping work at her home in April and May 2016, said Justice Department trial attorney Jolee Porter.

“Something corrupt happened,” Porter told the jury. “Jo Ann Macrina changed the rules.”

Credit: Hyosub Shin

Credit: Hyosub Shin

Prosecutors tried to paint Macrina as a co-conspirator with Jafari and Adam Smith, Atlanta’s former chief procurement officer. The trio allegedly discussed Atlanta projects, bids, and solicitations from 2014 through May 20, 2016 at a local restaurant.

Macrina led Atlanta’s watershed management department for more than five years until then-Mayor Kasim Reed fired her on May 20, 2016. After Macrina lost her job, prosecutors allege Jafari’s company — PRAD Group — paid her $30,000 for three months of work related to the same city contracts she obtained for them.

Prosecutors also played snippets of audio the FBI secretly recorded to show how Macrina repeatedly backpedaled after federal agents asked her about her gifts from Jafari.

“It was several thousand (dollars), but it wasn’t for me,” Macrina said in the recording. “He (Jafari) asked me to buy some things for his wife...I don’t want to get in trouble because I bought his wife stuff that I gave him.”

The defense attorneys described Macrina as a federal informant who was betrayed by the government even though she initiated contact with the FBI because she wanted to root out corruption at City Hall.

Defense attorney David Bouchard said Macrina stupidly and mistakenly accepted gifts from Jafari’s employee in Dubai, but those gifts were unrelated to her City Hall job. He said it’s not a crime for Macrina to get employed in the private sector after leaving City Hall.

He also said Atlanta’s ethics department never punished Macrina for her actions. And even if they had, the city’s ethics code is not a federal law, Bouchard said.

“The circumstantial evidence doesn’t add up,” said Bouchard, who called the government’s argument “nonsense.”

Macrina is one of several former city officials embroiled in the federal government’s years-long corruption probe of Atlanta City Hall. In March, Pastor Mitzi Bickers, a former city insider, was found guilty for operating a cash-for-contracts scheme at City Hall. U.S. District Court Judge Steve C. Jones sentenced Bickers to 14 years in prison.

In 2017, Smith plead guilty to taking more than $30,000 in payoffs from an unnamed company doing business with the city. He received a 27-month prison sentence. Jafari, who is awaiting trial, faces charges on a staggering 51 counts of conspiratorial bribery, bribery, witness tampering and tax evasion, among other alleged crimes.

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