A state agency has abandoned its controversial search for office space in Gwinnett County that spurred a civil lawsuit and criminal investigation.
The State Properties Commission had requested proposals for 80,000-square-feet of leased space for the Department of Family and Children Services that would have been worth up to $25 million for the property owner over two decades.
But the search was abandoned just three weeks after an Atlanta Journal-Constitution investigation found that the state’s point man on the project, Thad Jackson, shared confidential bid information with his former Vanderbilt University fraternity brother, who was a hired consultant for a company trying to win the bid.
Emails examined by the newspaper between Jackson and his friend, Steve Tedder, revealed that Tedder performed analysis of the competing proposals and created a spreadsheet the state used to compare the bids and select finalists. Brand Properties, the company that hired Tedder, initially won the contract.
The newspaper began investigating the deal after a civil suit, filed by Gwinnett property owner Fred Hand III, alleged that Jackson and Tedder conspired to rig the bid in favor of Brand Properties, a prominent developer in Gwinnett County.
The SPC decided to reissue the bid request after the lawsuit was filed, and fired Jackson. At the same time, the Georgia Bureau of Investigation began investigating the bidding process, and the FBI has interviewed at least one key player and been in contact with the properties commission.
Hand’s lawsuit also alleges that Gwinnett County Commissioner John Heard tried to extort money from him in exchange for getting the lease. Hand told the AJC that the demand was for a $3.6 million “leasing commission” to be paid over 15 years.
Heard has denied trying to extort Hand, but told the newspaper that he did seek money in exchange for designing the site and “putting the project together.” Heard said he couldn’t recall the amount.
Paul Melvin, a spokesman for the SPC, said his agency withdrew its latest request for proposals so it could consider other options, such as constructing a new building for DFACS. When asked if the controversies had anything to do with the withdrawal, Melvin forwarded that question to the property commission’s legal department.
“The SPC will not be commenting further in regard to matters involved in litigation or that are the subject of an investigation until such time as the litigation or investigation is concluded,” Cindy Presto, director of legal services for the agency, wrote in an email.
Hand’s attorney, Mark Forsling, said they will continue with the lawsuit and attempt to have Brand Properties disqualified from winning the contract, in the event that the SPC changes course again in favor of leased space.
“I can’t see why we wouldn’t do that, as far as we’ve gone,” Forsling said. “We don’t know anything about why they pulled it. It’s just conjecture that it’s about this mess.”