Is Atlanta’s Airport the Most Corrupt in the Country?

A couple of years ago Atlanta fired the General Manager of its airport. They didn’t provide much of a reason, and it seemed strange considering the success that the airport had.

The General Manager had plenty to say, though. He claimed he was fired for refusing to go along with corruption. Contracts were expected to be awarded to politically connected companies, not to the best companies or to those offering the best prices.

How do you get to open restaurants, for instance, in the airport?

Jackmont Hospitality, which operates restaurants including One Flew South on Concourse E, was founded by former Atlanta Mayor Maynard Jackson’s daughter and is led by Daniel Halpern, who was a co-chairman of Reed’s 2009 mayoral campaign. Hojeij’s Wassim Hojeij was a member of host committees for Reed campaign events, and he and relatives made campaign contributions to Reed.

The US attorney has pursued corruption charges. However the former Atlanta airport manager hasn’t been talking, at least publicly. And now we know why.

Not only was a large severance arranged for him to keep quiet the payment was hidden from the public and even from the City Council.

The City Council approved $85,516 “including health care and career counseling” as “full and final settlement” to the fired airport manager. It turns out he was also given another $147,000 as “dictated by the attorney for the City and Mayor Reed.”

Atlanta “spent about $1.7 million in outside legal work related to [the] firing” and it appears though the city agreed to a payout, the rest of the actual termination payment was made by a large developer who was also a donor to the then-Mayor. Three weeks later the developer got approval to build a new Intercontinental hotel at the airport. The developer also reportedly received $2 million in tax breaks from the city for another project, directed by the then-Mayor.

This all came out in documents turned over to the federal government as part of its corruption probe. Need I mention that the city is also the subject of a federal investigation for illegally using airport funds to defend itself against the federal corruption probe into this mess?

Atlanta’s airport is hardly along in corruption. Stories of the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority, which oversees Washington Dulles and National airports, are legion. Contracts go to friends, the Office of Audit doesn’t do formal audits and jobs go to unqualified friends and relatives.

However the size of the Atlanta airport, and the tight political control exercised over it, set it in a class of its own.

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. I have been a regular at a restaurant in E (I won’t write the name here so no one accuses me of disparagement) and spend around $80 for dinner each time. They just added new staff who are inexperienced and the service has gone ____ (I won’t use the word in case someone sues me for disparagement). Service is slow and food quality and temperature should be better at these prices. And they don’t take reservations or call-ahead.

    Also the restaurants in F add a mandatory 18% gratuity to all dine-in checks which is unethical and unreasonable. If I want to give you a gratuity, then I will give you a gratuity and I will decide how much the gratuity should be. They have no right to add it automatically. Add insult to injury, they still have another line that says additional gratuity and so people are in a hurry or don’t have their reading glasses or it is dark in there and hard to see or don’t understand English (this is F terminal and there are people who don’t speak English) and so the restaurant gets an additional gratuity and making money hand over fist and that is not right. What they are doing is unethical and wrong.

  2. My take: Their lawyers need to learn how to write in complete sentences…..or maybe that’s just part of the obfuscation.

  3. I would have thought CNN would have the inside track on these developments since Atlanta is their HQ.

  4. Dallas has a corrupt congresswoman who worked her magic at both our airports.
    Eddie Bernice Johnson’s airport holdings and scholarship scandal merge (Love Field)

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    Earlier this year, I wrote quite a bit about two no-bid contracts at Love Field and how one of them would benefit U.S. Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson.

    For years, a trust controlling Johnson’s assets has run minority concessions businesses at Love Field and DFW as part of a joint venture with the international concessions company the Hudson Group.

    Her holdings give Hudson a leg-up because they can use her participation to help fulfill minority and women-owned business participation requirements.

    Shortly after the council rejected extending a no-bid deal a Love to Hudson and Johnson, my colleague and Washington bureau chief Todd Gillman uncovered a scandal involving Johnson funneling scholarship funds to family and friends.

    Today, Johnson’s airport interests and her apparently improper use of scholarship funds merged.

    DFW AIRPORT ( – A DFW International Airport vice-president quit Thursday morning amid an investigation into a college scholarship his daughter received from Dallas Congresswoman Eddie Bernice Johnson.

    Don O’Bannon told me he submitted his resignation earlier this morning.

    During a phone interview, O’Bannon said, “I’m just tired, and I feel it’s better to move on.” He declined an on-camera interview.

    The airport placed O’Bannon on paid leave last October and hired former U.S. Attorney Richard Roper to look into the scholarship and determine if any airport policies were violated.

    No word from the airport yet if Roper has concluded his investigation. Roper also declined to comment for this story, and referred us to the airport.

    This morning O’Bannon wouldn’t say if he has been cleared by the airport in that investigation.

    But his ex-wife told us last October that O’Bannon had nothing do with their daughter receiving the scholarship whatsoever.

    O’Bannon oversaw the airport’s contracts with minority and women-owned businesses.

    Congresswoman Johnson has financial ties to two newsstands at DFW.

    The Congresswoman faced scrutiny last year after the Dallas Morning News reported she improperly awarded scholarships from the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation to family members and to her aides’ children.

  5. Washington Dulles and. Washington Reagan have my votes for the most incompetently run airports.

    Most corrupt are LGA, JFK and EWR. Hands down winners.

  6. I have lived in the Atlanta area since 1979. Stories of corruption, malfeasance & the like are numerous & regular. The Atlanta government is now under a large investigation that keeps getting more interesting. Dead rats left at a potential insider’s driveway at the direction of ex-mayors ‘ fixer ‘ Rev. Mitzi Bickers. & by the way it was just revealed this ex-mayor hid a large payment to the ex- airport chief administrator & not to be outdone . . now a Atlanta judge ( who was appointed by this ex-mayor ) is under investigation for buying lavish gifts for the ex-mayor out of judiciary funds.

  7. Atlanta has been corrupt for at least as long as I have been flying out of it. Considering I just retired after 41 years of working and flying out of Atlanta . . .

  8. What makes me mad about Atlanta Airport is the unwillingess to let more International Discounter airlines into ATL like say (WOW, Norwegian, etc) to compete. Delta owns this airport and always will and keeps the rates high and ATL airport management just is unwilling to let more International Discount Airlines into ATL.

  9. Houston’s Airport System is currently under investigation because former ATL employee Mario Diaz is running IAH into the ground.

  10. ATL has a very popular corruption education program. Former mayor Campbell went to Club Fed, Every facet of Mayor Reed ( known for his illegal propensity to turn on blue lights to get out of traffic, & had his brand new city limos repainted because he did not like the color ) who left 1/018 is under investigation after Rev. Bickers his fixer was found to be central to a bribe mill for construction firms. She was also implicated in some similar out of state activities. Hang out the Corruption R Us sign at the city limits.

  11. The ATL Airport is beyond corrupt. Deputy General Manager Jai Ferrell has been placed on administrative leave…of course they are saying FMLA but everyone knows the truth.
    They pay their friend and hire family just ask Tyronia Smith who hired her daughter to work for her.

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