Channel 2's Richard Belcher reports.

New bribery indictment targets contractor in Atlanta City Hall probe

A longtime city of Atlanta contractor, whose company has received millions of dollars in work at the Atlanta airport and for the city’s Watershed Department, was charged in a 51-count federal indictment Wednesday that accused him of bribery, money laundering, tax evasion and tampering with a witness.

The indictment of the politically-connected Lohrasb “Jeff” Jafari spells out the latest charges filed in the Department of Justice’s three-year investigation of Atlanta City Hall corruption, and officially names him as the person who allegedly paid bribes to the city’s former chief purchasing officer, Adam Smith.

Jafari is also accused of paying bribes in 2014 to an unnamed official in DeKalb County. Federal prosecutors last week issued a subpoena to the county seeking various documents related to county contracts and spending. It’s unclear if the the subpoena is related.

Smith, the first official to be charged in the Atlanta City Hall investigation, pleaded guilty in 2017 to accepting the bribes, and is in the middle of a 27-month prison sentence.

Jafari paid $40,000 to Smith — in $1,000 increments inside of restaurant bathrooms — between 2014 and January 2017, according to the indictment. In exchange, Smith provided him information about procurement projects, bids and city solicitations, court records say.

Jeff Jafari, a long-time contractor the city of Atlanta and Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport, was indicted Wednesday for bribery, witness tampering, tax evasion and other charges.
Photo: The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Smith also signed off on contracts awarded to Jafari’s company, and on task orders for extra work that expanded the budget of existing contracts in which PRAD was involved.

Jafari will fight the charges against him, according to defense attorney Steve Sadow, who provided The Atlanta Journal-Constitution with a statement Wednesday.

“Mr. Jafari is innocent,” Sadow’s statement says. “He has always endeavored to conduct business in an honorable and lawful manner. The allegations that he has willfully, corruptly or knowingly engaged in misconduct are untrue.”

In all, Jafari is charged with seven counts of bribery — a relatively small slice of the charges against him in the sweeping indictment.

There also are 20 counts of money laundering; three counts of tax evasion; five counts of money laundering/tax evasion; and 15 counts of structuring, which is withdrawing or transferring money from banks in a way that avoids federal reporting requirements.

The tampering charge involves conversations Jafari allegedly had with Smith after it became clear that the city’s purchasing chief was a target of the investigation. The indictment says Jafari pressured Smith to deny taking money from him, or tell investigators that the money was repayment for a loan.

At least some of those conversations were captured on secret recordings made by Smith, according to the indictment.

Jafari is quoted as saying he and Smith had to “stay on the same page.”

“You’ve got to deny the money,” the indictment quotes Jafari as saying. “Adam, we’re in trouble if you don’t — if you cave in, I’m (expletive).”

Many of the tax evasion and money laundering charges deal with Jafari’s alleged spending of company funds to maintain a lavish lifestyle.

Jafari is charged with taking large amounts of cash from corporate bank accounts, and using the money to pay for his Alpharetta home in a gated community; landscaping at the home in Country Club of the South; two Bentley automobiles; along with routine expenses like veterinary bills, dry cleaning and payments to personal credit cards.

“Jafari directed his in-house bookkeeper to not record his cash withdrawals and personal expenditures in a manner in which they would be reported as income for him to the IRS,” the indictment says.

Caren Morrison, a law professor at Georgia State who previously worked as an Assistant U.S. Attorney in the Eastern District of New York, said it’s going to be a tough case for Jafari to fight.

“It’s a nice indictment, very complete,” Morrison said. “It’s a sizable amount of money over a long period of time. They’ve got consciousness of guilt from the things he said to Adam Smith. I think it shows they have a really strong case against the guy.”

ORIGINAL DOCUMENT: Read the indictment

Political connections

For years, Jafari was a major player in Atlanta politics.

He forged a close relationship with former Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed, and Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms returned more than $25,700 in campaign donations from Jafari and people or entities related to him during the 2017 mayoral campaign, after Jafari’s office was raided by the FBI that fall.

Jafari was also on the host committee for a major fundraising event for Bottoms in early 2017.

A spokesman for the mayor’s office said the administration remains “steadfast in our commitment to both fully cooperate with the authorities through the end of the investigation and continue to build safeguards within City Hall to expand transparency and prevent self-serving acts of wrongdoing before they occur.”

In addition to Bottoms, several council members up for re-election in 2017 returned donations from Jafari, his family, his company and his business partners after the raid that fall.

In 2012, Jafari and related entities gave $16,800 to Reed’s mayoral campaign.

Morrison, the law professor, said it’s reasonable to think that Jafari might fit into the larger ongoing investigation of City Hall corruption.

“The question is: Does he just have information on Smith, or does he know something else?” Morrison said. “It sounds like he is way more than just a contractor. He might well be the next piece of the puzzle.”

U.S. Attorney Byung J. “BJay” Pak described the indictment during a Wednesday press conference as “yet another step in marching toward the finish line” of the investigation.

PRAD Group, which Jafari left after the FBI raid, and its partners billed the city more than $39 million from 2015 through September 2017. The company and its partners also did transportation design work for the city’s public works department and some facilities work for the city’s executive offices.

Jafari’s wife, Nancy, is involved with a company Roberson & Reynolds which has a link to a restaurant at Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport, according to the company’s website. An executive with Roberson & Reynolds is listed as a vice president and general manager of Georgia Airport Concessions LLC, operating Papi’s Cuban & Caribbean Café at the airport since 2015.

PRAD performed a lot of airport work from 2003-08, including: security gate upgrades on the North and South terminals; renovation to Concourse D floor, bathrooms and walls; renovation and additions to three Fire Stations; and a $40 million renovation and addition to Concourse D. The company was part of a group of companies that constructed a $260 million rental car center that opened at the airport in 2009.

The indictment comes at a critical moment for the city-run airport. A planned vote is scheduled for Thursday in the Georgia Senate on a potential state takeover of the airport. Pak said the timing of Jafari’s indictment was coincidental.

Staff writers J. Scott Trubey and Kelly Yamanouchi contributed to this story.

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