Feds subpoena more DeKalb records in corruption investigation

Learn more about the former DeKalb County commissioner in the AJC's "5 things to know" series.

Federal authorities last month demanded campaign finance records for a former DeKalb County commissioner and county commission meeting records that suggest investigators are scrutinizing a multi-million-dollar wastewater contract.

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution and Channel 2 Action News obtained a pair of federal grand jury subpoenas DeKalb officials received in April. The first, dated April 9, seeks campaign records related to former Commissioner Sharon Barnes Sutton, who left often in 2016 but who has been the subject of an ethics investigation and federal scrutiny for the past few years.

A second subpoena, dated 10 days later, seeks video from a July 2013 DeKalb County commission meeting and records related to meetings of two of the commission’s committees.

It's unclear if the two subpoenas are related to the same investigation. But both follow a subpoena the county received in February that sought records from three companies that received lucrative water and sewer system contracts and Sutton's spending decisions while in office. All three subpoenas were issued by the same federal grand jury.

The U.S. Department of Justice’s Public Integrity Section sent the April 9 request to DeKalb’s elections board, Channel 2 Action News learned. It seeks campaign finance records related to Sutton from 2008 to present, including the names of people who filed reports on her behalf.

The subpoena also requests documentation of any communication that Sutton, former advisor and boyfriend Warren Mosby, or any representatives of her Friends of Sharon Barnes Sutton political committee had with the DeKalb County Board of Registration and Elections or any advice she received about campaign finance and reporting.

Sutton answered a call to her cell phone from an AJC reporter on Wednesday, but said she had no knowledge about the latest subpoena. She would not discuss whether she had any interactions with federal agents or why she might be under investigation.

Related |Feds subpoena more records linked to ex-DeKalb commissioner

The April 19 subpoena requests a copy of the video recording of the July 16, 2013, DeKalb County commission meeting. During that meeting, commissioners approved a $10.3 million contract with engineering company Tetra Tech to manage the expansion of the Snapfinger Creek Advanced Wastewater Treatment Plant.

“The fact that it is such a specific date and time of the meeting of the board seems to indicate to me that there is something, some business that was done that day that seems particularly interesting to them,” Georgia State University law professor and former federal prosecutor Caren Morrison told Channel 2.

According to video posted on the county website, the vote occurred without any discussion or debate after Sutton made the motion to approve the contract.

That subpoena also asks for meeting minutes and notes for the 2013 calendar year for two commission committees: Public Work and Infrastructure, which was asked to review the project’s scope, and Finance, Audit and Budget, which signed off on hiring Tetra Tech. Sutton also made the motion in committee to recommend hiring the company.

Seeking DeKalb business

Tetra Tech had a higher price than other companies that submitted proposals, but it had the highest score after two rounds of evaluations.

During the committee discussion on July 9, 2013, Kelvin Walton, then-DeKalb’s purchasing director, explained how reviewers boosted Tetra Tech’s score after an interview with company officials. After the interview, Tetra Tech’s score jumped 19 points; two companies lost points following interviews, a fourth company’s score did not change and a fifth didn’t qualify for an interview.

Tetra Tech was also one of the subjects in the February subpoena. Then, the grand jury requested documents from 2014 regarding the company, including contracts and invoices.

When Tetra Tech won the Snapfinger job in 2013, its proposal listed Sandy Springs-based PRAD Group as a subcontractor. Lohrasb "Jeff" Jafari, the former executive vice president of PRAD Group, was indicted in March on 51 counts of bribery, money laundering, tax evasion and tampering with a witness. Among the allegations is that he paid bribes to an unnamed DeKalb official in 2014.

Jafari is also accused of paying more than $40,000 in bribes to Atlanta’s former chief purchasing officer, Adam Smith.

Related | Atlanta City Hall probe seeps into DeKalb with bribery indictment

Smith was the first city official to be charged in the Atlanta City Hall investigation. Jafari's company has done millions of dollars in projects in both Atlanta and DeKalb, and he was also active in politics.

Jeff Jafari leaves federal court after his hearing on Wednesday, March 6, 2019. Federal prosecutors have charged Jeff Jafari, a former executive vice president of PRAD Group, on charges of bribery, witness tampering and tax evasion in the latest twist in the ongoing Atlanta City Hall corruption scandal. HYOSUB SHIN / HSHIN@AJC.COM

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The AJC was the first to report that Jafari and his wife, Nancy, donated thousands of dollars to DeKalb political candidates ahead of the 2012 election. Sutton, as well as incumbents Lee May and Elaine Boyer, received $5,000 each. 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.

May told the AJC in March that Jafari once supported his campaign but they were not friends.

“I knew him like any other contractor,” May said then. “I always felt like he was trying to get business in DeKalb.”

Federal officials have subpoenaed records related to Barnes since at least 2017 when a different grand jury requested documents related to two companies she hired during her tenure as commissioner: CAL Enterprises LLC and For Winners Only Inc.

In February, Sutton confirmed to Channel 2 that she received a subpoena requesting her banking and campaign records. Shortly after, the county received the subpoena asking for copies of budget amendments or requests in 2016 that affected District 4, her seat.

That subpoena also asked for records of payments and communication with the Bell & Washington law firm. Sutton was once represented by Quinton Washington, a partner at the firm. Mosby, her former boyfriend, once told a community newspaper that another partner at the firm, Ashley Bell, represented him after the couple got into a domestic dispute.

This is the same subpoena where the county was asked to supply records related to Tetra Tech, as well as two other companies that won water and sewer system contracts.

About Sharon Barnes Sutton

First elected in 2008 and re-elected in 2012.

Her finances were scrutinized in 2010 when the AJC reported that four warrants had been issued in her name after allegations she wrote bad checks at a Costco in Gwinnett County. Police later investigated whether she was improperly allowed to leave the scene of an accident despite the outstanding warrants.

Lost a bid for a third term in 2016 and left office at the end of the year.

Faced ethics charges in 2015 that she and an assistant abused county purchasing cards and misspent public dollars. That case was suspended when she filed suit against the ethics board.

A Superior Court judge later sided with Sutton that a majority of ethics board members were illegally appointed by private groups, and the Georgia Supreme Court last year upheld the lower court ruling. As a result, the Ethics Board has been dormant for months.