FBI questions vendors in airport controversy

by: Jodie Fleischer Updated:

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ATLANTA - Channel 2 Action News has confirmed federal agents are now involved in the concessions contract scandal at Atlanta's Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport.

Several vendors who submitted bids for food and beverage contracts told Channel 2 investigative reporter Jodie Fleischer that agents from the Federal Bureau of Investigation approached them with questions about the process.
           
"They contacted me to see if we thought anything illegal had gone on in the bid process," said a bidder who asked not to be identified.
           
He told the FBI he wasn't happy with how the $3 billion in concessions contracts were awarded.
           
"I answered their questions that I had a feeling things went on, but I couldn't provide hard evidence," he told Fleischer.

He said agents first approached him in January, after a Channel 2 investigation exposed a fundraiser for Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed, held just four days before the airport bidding started.

Reed brought in nearly $300,000 on March 17, 2011. Fleischer poured through the concessions bids and campaign records and tied at least $57,000 of it to would-be airport vendors.
           
Reed voluntarily gave back about $25,000 he received during the bidding period. But he refused to give back bidder money received in the days leading up to the bidding. Reed has repeatedly said he had nothing to do with the awarding of the airport contracts.
           
The anonymous source told Fleischer the FBI agents asked him about campaign contributions to Reed and Atlanta City Council members, and that in his opinion, the food and beverage contracts were a pay-to-play situation, meaning vendors got contracts in exchange for supporting public officials.
           
Channel 2 uncovered invitations for several fundraising events sent to and, in some cases, hosted by vendors who had or wanted airport contracts. The FBI asked about those too, "the winning bidders and the losing bidders, and how maybe what the connections are with the winners to elected officials," said the source.
           
Prominent businessman Mack Wilbourn, who recently hosted President Barack Obama at his home, also hosted a fundraiser for Mayor Reed. Wilbourn won more than $350 million worth of contracts at the airport. Fleischer obtained two fundraising emails Wilbourn also sent on behalf of two councilmen.
           
"It might take two years. It might take five years, hopefully one day we'll know the truth," said the anonymous source. "My hope for the city of Atlanta is that we put a better face on the airport and people around the country just stop expecting that this just always goes on in Atlanta."
           
Atlanta spokeswoman Sonji Jacobs said the city has not been contacted by the FBI.
           
"In three different judicial proceedings, the city of Atlanta has presented the facts about the airport concessions process and each time, the city has prevailed. The procurement process has been fair and transparent and not a single shred of evidence has been produced to substantiate any of the losing bidders' claims," Jacobs said.
           
She added, "It appears the losing bidders who have been making false allegations about the airport concessions procurement process for months have continued their smear campaign by contacting the Federal Bureau of Investigation with the same baseless accusations."
           
The vendor told Fleischer, "I think everybody in Atlanta should be happy that they're looking into it."



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