The federal corruption probe that has shaken Atlanta City Hall for three years crossed jurisdictional lines this week and pulled DeKalb County back to an all-too-familiar place: In the crosshairs of prosecutors, grand jury charges and allegations of misconduct.
In a charging document unsealed Wednesday, the federal government outlined its case against Lohrasb “Jeff” Jafari, a contractor who has done millions of dollars of business in the city of Atlanta. Jafari is accused of paying $40,000 in bribes to Atlanta’s former chief purchasing officer.
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But buried in the 51-count indictment is an allegation that Jafari paid bribes to an unnamed DeKalb County official in 2014 — a period of scandal and corruption that county leaders have tried to put in the past.
U.S. Attorney Byung J. “BJay” Pak said during a news conference that it was the first time any governing body other than the city of Atlanta had been referenced in the ongoing probe that has led to five guilty pleas and two indictments in Atlanta. Pak would not name the DeKalb official or say if the person’s identity would ever be revealed but left open the possibility.
“We could prove that the person was an agent, and it was alleged that Mr. Jafari paid that person a bribe,” Pak said. “Should that person be worried? Well, we’ll see.”
Also left unsaid, is whether the DeKalb official might already be cooperating with federal authorities.
Jafari’s defense attorney, Steve Sadow, did not return an email on Thursday seeking comment about his client’s business and political connections in DeKalb. Sadow said in a statement issued Wednesday that Jafari is innocent of the charges and planned to fight the allegations against him.
The indictment alleges that on or around April 8 and August 21 of 2014, Jafari gave something of value to a DeKalb County official to “influence and reward” that official in the course of DeKalb business.
Jafari’s former company, the PRAD Group, was awarded just one contract in DeKalb over a decade ago — a January 2004 award of $616,486 to design and construct a new facilities management building — according to a county review of its records. No other contracts, even with PRAD as part of a joint venture, were discovered, the county said.
By comparison, from 2015 through September 2017, PRAD and its partners billed the city of Atlanta more than $39 million.
Jafari and his wife, Nancy, were active in DeKalb politics. During the 2012 election year, they donated $5,000 each to incumbent commissioners Lee May, Elaine Boyer and Sharon Barnes Sutton. Jafari also donated $2,500 to the campaign of Edmond Richardson, May’s then chief of staff who unsuccessfully challenged Commissioner Kathie Gannon that year.
Contacted by phone on Thursday, May said he remembered Jafari as someone who was involved in local politics and once supported his campaign.
“I knew him like any other contractor,” May said. “I always felt like he was trying to get business in DeKalb.”
May, who served as DeKalb’s interim CEO after Burrell Ellis was indicted in 2013, was once accused of borrowing money from an aide. That aide, Morris Williams, and county contractor Doug Cotter later pleaded guilty to forging May’s signature on a $4,000 check connected to work on May’s home after a 2010 sewer spill. May, who left office in December 2016, was never charged and denied any wrongdoing.
He said he has not been contacted by federal officials about the recent allegations and did not know who the unnamed DeKalb official is in the indictment.
Sutton and Boyer could not be reached for comment Thursday.
Sutton, who lost a 2016 re-election bid and left office at the end of that year, was in the news again late last month after a federal grand jury issued a subpoena to DeKalb County.
ORIGINAL DOCUMENT: Read the indictment
There’s no indication the subpoena is related to Jafari’s indictment, but federal authorities are seeking documents related to county commission activities, three contractors, a law firm with ties to Sutton and documents related to budget issues in her former district.
Earlier in February, Sutton received a separate subpoena that asked for banking and campaign records, and in 2017 the county was asked to turn over documents related to two companies to which she authorized payments when she was on the commission.
In 2014, Boyer admitted to participating in a kickback scheme that cost taxpayers $87,000 and she served a year in federal prison. She was one of several officials linked to scandal in DeKalb government during a tumultuous period that resulted in a series of indictments and led a grand jury to conclude that the county was plagued by a culture of corruption.
DeKalb Commissioner Jeff Rader, who serves as the commission’s presiding officer, said Wednesday’s indictment and its mention of a DeKalb official provides another reason why he believes the county should adopt a purchasing ordinance and implement other recommendations after a recent audit of its contracting processes.
“Clearly it has something to do with money that the county spends ,and that money is typically regulated through the procurement process,” Rader said. “It would suggest a weakness in that process, and it is our responsibility to correct those weaknesses in an enforceable way.”
Channel 2 Action News Reporter Richard Belcher contributed to this report.
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