Atlanta mayoral candidate to return donation from embattled contractor

6:34 p.m Monday, Oct. 2, 2017 Local
Candidate for Atlanta mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms Curtis vowed Monday to return more than $25,000 in campaign contributions from a longtime city contractor whose office was raided by the FBI last month. Compton/ccompton@ajc.com

Atlanta mayoral candidate Keisha Lance Bottoms vowed Monday to return more than $25,000 in campaign contributions from a longtime city contractor whose office was raided by the FBI last month, just days before the federal investigation into City Hall bribery netted a guilty plea from the city’s former purchasing chief.

Lance Bottoms, a city council member since 2010 who Mayor Kasim Reed put in charge of the Atlanta Fulton County Recreation Authority, received 10 contributions amounting to $25,700 from engineering firm PRAD Group, its’ executives and their family members, according to an analysis of campaign finance records by the Georgia News Lab.

“It’s not an embarrassment to my campaign,” Lance Bottoms said Monday of the PRAD donations. “He donated as any number of others. I’ve already asked my campaign to return those donations.”

Three of those contributions were from The PRAD Design Build, JP2/PRAD Group and Roberson & Reynolds — a company associated with the wife of PRAD executive Lohrasb Jeff Jafari.

Other contributions came from Jafari, executive vice president of PRAD, his wife Nancy Jafari, and George Reynolds (president of the PRAD Group), their spouses and children.

Jeff Jafari was also on the host committee for a major Lance Bottoms fund-raising event earlier this year.

The Georgia News Lab could find no other mayoral candidates to which the PRAD Group or any of its affiliates contributed. However, in 2012 the Jafaris and Reynolds gave $16,800 to Mayor Kasim Reed’s campaign.

A message left for Jeff Jafari was not returned on Monday. He has not been charged. Video of the raid, obtained by Channel 2 Action News and the AJC, show about 10 FBI agents entering the Sandy Springs office, where they hauled away boxes of documents.

PRAD has been paid at least $60 million by the city for work from 2009 to 2014, according to an analysis of city invoices obtained by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Since 2015, PRAD and its partners have billed another $39 million, according to purchase orders examined by the AJC.

Additonally, Jeff Jafari is listed as a representative of the newly formed Airport Retail Concessions Group, which bid last week on four of 10 airport concession contracts that collectively are worth millions of dollars.

The PRAD contributions make up only a small portion of the approximate $823,000 raised by Lance Bottoms so far, according to the Georgia News Lab analysis. Of that total, more than $180,000 has come from personal loans Lance Bottoms has made to her campaign, the analysis found.

Lance Bottoms said she thinks all city employees dealing with sensitive procurement issues should be required to file their tax returns along with the financial disclosures required by the city.

“But at the end of the day … I know that you can’t legislate your way out of criminal behavior,” Lance Bottoms said. “When someone is bent on being a criminal, they’ll be a criminal.”

The bribery investigation broke into public view in January, when contractor Elvin “E.R.” Mitchell Jr. admitted to paying more than $1 million in exchange for city contracts from 2010 to 2015. A second contractor, Charles P. Richards Jr., pleaded guilty a few weeks later.

Then in February, chief procurement officer Adam Smith was fired on the same day that agents searched his office and seized his work computer and smart phone. An accompanying subpoena demanded Smith’s emails and documentation he made in contracts during the procurement process.

Smith admitted last week to accepting at least $30,000 in bribes from an unnamed construction contractor in exchange for contract information.

Footage of the Sept. 20 raid at the PRAD Group show federal agents removing boxes of documents from the company’s Sandy Springs offices.

Keisha Lance Bottoms is a candidate for Atlanta mayor.

The next mayor will impact all of metro Atlanta, and the economy of the Southeast. In our series Election 2017, we examine how a lack of affordable housing means fewer new companies – and new jobs – moving here. 

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