FAA Letters May Jeopardize Airport Concessions Contracts

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(APN) ATLANTA — The Federal Aviation Administration sent a second set of letters dated August 09, 2012, regarding the minority and disadvantaged business status of four companies that received a large proportion of airport concessions contracts from the City of Atlanta.

The letters direct the Georgia Department of Transportation (GDOT) to begin hearings regarding the possible revocation of Airport Concession Disadvantaged Business Enterprise (ACDBE) status from the four companies, which are Atlanta Restaurant Partners, Hojejj Branded Foods, MACK II, and Vida Concessions.

The award of contracts to these four companies helped the City of Atlanta to meet ACDBE goals that the federal government requires for the airport to receive federal dollars.

Thus, if the companies lose their ACDBE status, the City will have to decide whether to keep the current contracts but give up federal dollars for the airport; or whether to re-bid the contracts to companies who are eligible.

The letters are directed to Michael Cooper, Director of Equal Employment Opportunity at GDOT.

“In accordance with 49 CFR Part 26 section 26.87(c)(1) and 49 CFR Part 23 section 23.31(a), FAA hereby directs GDOT, as the entity responsible for implementing the Unified Certification Program in the State of Georgia, to initiate a proceeding to remove the Airport Concession Disadvantaged Business Enterprise (ACDBE) certification of,” each respective company, Michael Freilich, Director, Civil Rights, Western-Pacific Region and DBE Compliance for the FAA wrote.

As previously reported by Atlanta Progressive News, all of the winning companies had connections to the Mayor and/or gave significant campaign contributions to the Mayor.

For example, Atlanta Restaurant Partners (ARP) includes Valerie Jackson and Brooke Jackson Edmond, the widow and daughter of former Mayor Maynard Jackson–whose name ironically appears on the new international airport terminal where many of these concessions are located–as well as Dan Halpern, a high-level operative in Mayor Kasim Reed’s 2009 campaign and Reed’s appointee to the Atlanta Housing Authority Board of Commissioners.

Jackson and Jackson Edmond were supposed to be the minority partners of ARP; however, the FAA found that neither of them ever obtained badges from the airport, nor did they participate in concessions reviews.

In addition, the FAA found that Jackson Edmond is the CEO of the Maynard Jackson Youth Foundation and Leadership Academy, which they believe prevents her from taking an active part in managing her concessions, as required by ACDBE regulations.

“We do not believe it is possible for an ACDBE owner to exercise the degree of control the rules require over an ACDBE firm while never physically visiting its location or participating in the performance reviews.  While delegation of responsibility is possible under the rules, the degree of abdication of managerial responsibility suggested by never visiting the store in years is not compatible with the ACDBE control requirements,” the FAA wrote.

In the case of Hojejj Branded Foods, the FAA found that Carol Hojejj, the purported disadvantaged partner, rarely visited her concessions locations.

“Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport provided FAA with badging records for both Carol Hojeij and Wassim Hojeij (see enclosure) indicating that Carol Hojeij only visited her locations behind security a total of four times from May 2010 to January 2012 as compared to Wassim Hojeij who visited 484 times during the same period,” the FAA wrote, attaching printouts of electronic badge readings covering nearly two years.

The FAA also found that Carol Hojejj’s personal net worth (PNW) exceeded the limits established by the federal regulations.

The Hojejj’s have been significant donors to Mayor Reed since his 2009 campaign.

The FAA found that Mack Wilbourn’s PNW also exceeded the limits, making MACK II ineligible for ACDBE status.

And the FAA found that Vida Ghahremani of Vida Concessions did not appear to exercise managerial control of her concessions: that she was never badged and did not attend concessions reviews; and that her time appears to have been otherwise occupied as the CEO of Capital Accounting and Tax Services.

“Vida Ghahremani also stated in a signed letter to GDOT that she ‘goes to the airport location several times per week’ which is contradicted by the airport’s records that she was not badged during the six years of running Caribou Coffee, nor was she escorted to the location,” the FAA wrote.

“Wow.  Now the house of cards begins to fall,” Councilwoman Felicia Moore (District 9), wrote in an email to a constituent.  

Moore was one of only three Council Members, and the most vocal, to oppose the recent awarding of airport concessions contracts, a process which was plagued by lax oversight, destroyed records, and numerous questions about the selections process, as previously reported by APN..

Moore had also introduced emergency legislation after the City became aware of the first set of letters from the FAA on April 20, 2012, which would have allowed for the then-current concessionaires to stay in business at the airport until the FAA determined whether the four winning bidders qualified as ACDBE businesses.

However, that legislation failed, and the contracts went forward despite the fact that the City knew about the FAA’s concerns.

(END/2012)

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