ATLANTA - Channel 2 Action News has uncovered an explosive letter which could impact the multibillion dollar contracts for shops and restaurants at Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport.
The federal government said four of the contract winners were given an undeserved advantage, because they were wrongly considered to be disadvantaged businesses. Most of the winning vendors received ‘bonus points’ in the scoring process, because of the special consideration.
Channel 2 investigative reporter Jodie Fleischer has learned the Federal Aviation Administration reviewed four of the files submitted to the Georgia Department of Transportation, which decides whether firms qualify for the special status. The FAA sent letters to the city of Atlanta, the airport general manager, GDOT and MARTA, saying Atlanta Restaurant Partners and Mack II are ineligible because their personal net worth was too high to qualify as disadvantaged. Vida Concessions and Hojeij Branded Foods are ineligible because of inadequate documentation.
The FAA letter raises the most serious question yet about the city’s bidding process, which has been shrouded in scandal since the winners were announced. Several losing vendors appealed, alleging less qualified, but more politically connected vendors won.
In January, a Channel 2 investigation exposed questions regarding campaign donations to Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed, just days before the bidding process began. Records show he received more than $292,000 on March 17, at least $50,000 from people who had or wanted airport contracts. Reed only returned $22,000 in campaign donations received during the procurement process, which lasted from March 21 through June 30.
Reed said at the time, “I know I played no role in the selection of these firms whether they contributed to me or not."
One of the vendors now deemed ineligible for disadvantaged business status, Atlanta Restaurant Partners, is run by Dan Halpern, former co-chair of Reed’s campaign. Mack II is owned by well-known businessman Mack Wilbourn, who recently hosted President Obama at his home.
The FAA also deemed ineligible Vida Concessions and Hojeij Branded Foods. Both were the subject of another Channel 2 investigation, which exposed questions about the relationship between the two companies.
The FAA told the airport and the City of Atlanta all four firms should not have received special consideration in the scoring process, yet the score sheets show that they did. In many cases, the second place finisher would have overtaken the winner if those extra points are subtracted.
The FAA only reviewed those four firms based on allegations of certification irregularities. The letters clearly state there are potentially others who received contracts who are also ineligible for the special consideration.
A spokesperson for the city of Atlanta said the city is moving forward with the opening of the international terminal in a few weeks, with the companies that have been contracted and certified, but that the city does plan to work with the FAA to respond to the letter.
Fleischer tried to reach all four companies involved in the investigation but none responded.
An attorney for one losing bidder said late Thursday this amounts to a violation of federal law, and that the city withheld this information during an appeal that was denied earlier this week.