Ex-Atlanta watershed official gets 4 years in prison for bribery scandal

A federal jury found Jo Ann Macrina guilty of conspiracy and federal program bribery on Oct. 14.
Jo Ann Macrina, former commissioner of Atlanta’s Department of Watershed Management

Jo Ann Macrina, former commissioner of Atlanta’s Department of Watershed Management

Former Atlanta Watershed Commissioner Jo Ann Macrina will serve four and a half years in prison after she accepted bribes from a contractor in exchange for millions of dollars in city work for the contractor’s company, federal prosecutors announced on Friday.

Macrina, 66, of Daytona Beach, Florida, was sentenced by U.S. District Judge Steve C. Jones to four years and six months in prison, followed by three years of supervised release and $40,000 in restitution, according to a press release from the U.S. Department of Justice.

A federal jury found Macrina guilty of conspiracy and federal program bribery on Oct. 14.

Macrina’s defense attorneys, Paul Kish and David Bouchard, said in a statement Friday night that they’re planning to appeal her case because they don’t believe she received a fair trial. The attorneys said they’re horribly disappointed in the DOJ’s injustice toward an innocent, decorated public servant.

“The day after she was fired by former Mayor Kasim Reed, Ms. Macrina began a two and a half year effort to assist the Department of Justice in uncovering fraud within the City of Atlanta government,” said the defense attorney statement. “In 2019 the FBI then turned on her, contending that she had been involved in the very same fraud she detailed for the Government during her 24 interviews with agents.”

Macrina served as commissioner of Atlanta’s Department of Watershed Management from 2011 through May 2016. During that time, Atlanta awarded an $11 million contract to joint venture firm JP2, an Atlanta-based architectural, design, and construction management and services group spearheaded by contractor Lohrasb “Jeff” Jafari.

But the FBI eventually learned that the city’s contract vetting process initially ranked Jafari’s application near the bottom of the list of potential vendors seeking city work. Prosecutors alleged Macrina used her position to change the final scores, and that she gave the firm’s executive vice president access to confidential information and preferential treatment on Atlanta projects.

Macrina was offered a job in exchange for her actions, the DOJ said. She also accepted $10,000 in cash, a diamond ring, a room at a luxury hotel in Dubai and landscaping work at her home from the firm’s executive vice president, either directly or through another employee of the firm.

Macrina also began working for the firm after her city job ended. The firm and its executive vice president paid Macrina $30,000 in four separate payments between June 2016 and September 2016, according to the DOJ.

“Jo Ann Macrina was entrusted to safeguard the water supply for millions of Atlanta residents, but instead resorted to corruption by steering work to a city contractor in exchange for cash, luxury items and a lucrative job offer,” U.S. Attorney Ryan K. Buchanan said in a statement.

James E. Dorsey, Special Agent in Charge, IRS Criminal Investigation, Atlanta Field Office said in a statement that Macrina’s sentence serves notice to public officials that they are not above the law and will be held accountable for using public funds for their own use.

A day without Macrina: Department of Watershed Management Commissioner Jo Ann Macrina speaks during the “Imagine a Day Without Water” event in October 2015. HYOSUB SHIN / HSHIN@AJC.COM

Credit: Hyosub Shin

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Credit: Hyosub Shin

“Macrina exploited her position to feed her own greed,” Keri Farley, Special Agent in Charge of FBI Atlanta, said in a statement.

Farley added that “this case is especially disturbing because she was the head of a department. This conviction reflects our continuing commitment to root out corruption and bring to justice those who abuse positions of power.”

Macrina is one of several former city officials embroiled in the federal government’s years-long corruption probe of Atlanta City Hall. In March 2022, 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 Jones sentenced Bickers to 14 years in prison.

In 2017, Atlanta procurement chief Adam 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.