A Channel 2 Action News investigation has uncovered serious questions about two of the companies that won concessions contracts at Atlanta's Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport.
Records show they use the same addresses, and both claim to run the same coffee shop at the airport.
During the bidding process, the city very specifically told the companies a winning bidder in the larger concessions packages was not eligible to win on the smaller ones.
That would guarantee smaller
companies a piece of the $3 billion in airport contracts up for grabs.
But some of the losing bidders are now questioning whether Hojeij Branded Foods, which won the first big package, is really operating Vida
Concessions, which won as a joint venture in small package number 9.
"The small packages were specifically made for the smaller guys. When the big guys try to get into the small packages as well, the small man never has the opportunity to come into the airport," said Perry Seabrooks, co-owner of Take-off Concessions, which lost to Vida on package 9. Take-off Concessions wanted to bring Figo Pasta and Crazy Dough Pizza to the airport.
"For me personally it was a dream come true for someone who
started in this business as a dishwasher, and worked my way up," said Seabrooks, who's spent 21 years working at the Atlanta airport Domino's Pizza. He was stunned to score 60 points lower than the winner in the experience category.
Vida-Velocity is a joint venture in which Vida Concessions claims to have run the Caribou Coffee on Concourse E for five years. But the website for Hojeij Branded
Foods shows a picture of that same Caribou, claiming it's a Hojeij business.
The Clayton County property tax bill is in Vida's name, but is mailed to Hojeij's address.
"I've visited, and the young lady that was actually there told me Hojeij operates these units," said Seabrooks.
In fact, monthly airport reports list Hojeij as both the prime and the subtenant for that Caribou Coffee, with no mention of Vida.
Vida's address on Powers Ferry
Road is a business called Capital Accounting, owned by Vida Gharamani and her husband, Jamshid Panahi. But that address is also used by Wassim Hojeij on one of his businesses, and his wife, Carol Hojeij, on one of hers.
"Who do you think
Vida really is?" asked Investigative Reporter Jodie Fleischer.
"Right now, I think it's Hojeij, to be honest with you. That's just a
cover-up for the way for a big package to win a small package," answered Seabrooks.
And Hojeij didn't just win a big package, it won the biggest package, valued at more than $67 million.
Secretary of State records show Wassim Hojeij is already in business with Jamshid Panahi at another airport restaurant, Bistro del Sol.
"It's a grey area, let's put it that way, depending on how close the relationships are," said Bill Carney, an Emory Law School professor specializing in corporate law.
"Where you have rules about bidders only getting one contract and not another, if they are treated as separate entities when they are really not, that's kind of a fraud on the public," Carney added.
He said competitors like Seabrooks would only know for sure if they
sued and subpoenaed the two companies' financial records.
Staff at the Vida Concessions' office told Channel 2 the owner would get back to us but she
didn't, nor did she return phone calls.
A Hojeij spokesman told Fleischer the companies are separate, but have a mentoring relationship, and that all rules were followed.
Seabrooks wants to be
sure. "I have no problem losing, I just want it to be fair. This is my livelihood."
Take-off Concessions is one of several losing bidders now in the process of protesting the awarded contracts. Seabrooks
wondered why the city's evaluation team didn't question the links between Hojeij and Vida.
The city has repeatedly defended the bidding process as fair, saying the evaluators were trained and qualified to choose the best companies.