ATLANTA – Hayat Choudhary, CEO of Atlanta Airport Shuttle Services, Inc., d/b/a Meskerem Restaurant, has been sentenced to federal prison for paying $20,000 in cash to a City of Atlanta Department of Procurement official to secure a contract at the Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport.
“The public expects that government contracts are awarded solely based on merit,” said U.S. Attorney Byung J. “BJay” Pak. “As the defendant learned, there are serious consequences for those who believe they can bribe their way into a contract. We will continue to vigorously investigate pay-to-play schemes at all levels of government.”
“Choudhary’s actions erode the public’s trust in a process that is meant to be fair to all contract applicants,” said Chris Hacker, Special Agent in Charge of FBI Atlanta. “Hopefully this sentencing will help restore some of that trust, or at least send a message that the FBI is determined to pursue anyone who would undermine the integrity of how contracts are awarded.”
According to U.S. Attorney Pak, the charges and other information presented in court: Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport (“Atlanta’s airport”) is the principal airport for Georgia and the southeastern United States. In 2017, Atlanta’s airport — the busiest passenger airport in the world at the time — generated more than $500 million in revenue for the City of Atlanta, including approximately $8.8 million in fees and charges from private ground transportation companies (such as taxicabs, limousines, ridesharing, and hotel and parking lot shuttles). One such company was Atlanta Airport Shuttle Services, Inc., d/b/a Meskerem Restaurant, owned and operated by the defendant, Hayat Choudhary.
The City of Atlanta’s Department of Procurement was responsible for acquiring all services for Atlanta’s airport. The Department of Procurement’s “Guiding Principles” commit its personnel to “award contracts that are consistent with the policy, regulations, rules, and laws,” and “without regard for personal gain.”
On or about May 2, 2017, the Department of Procurement announced that the City of Atlanta sought to enter a contract for a vendor to establish and operate a kitchen/restaurant at the Ground Transportation Building at Atlanta’s airport. The kitchen/restaurant would serve the large and growing number of taxi, limousine, and rideshare drivers that provided transportation services to passengers traveling to and from Atlanta’s airport.
The Department of Procurement projected that the kitchen/restaurant at the Ground Transportation Building would generate annual revenue of $200,000, and generate rent payments to the City of Atlanta of $13,000 per year. The City of Atlanta offered a ten-year term for the kitchen/restaurant contract, with a three-year renewal option. Choudhary’s company, Atlanta Airport Shuttle Services, Inc., d/b/a Meskerem Restaurant, was one of the bidders for the contract.
“Official-1” was the Department of Procurement officer responsible for overseeing the bidding process and, thus, influenced the awarding of the kitchen/restaurant contract. After the contract was announced, Choudhary paid a $10,000 bribe to Official-1 to obtain the contract. After the first bribe payment, Official-1 instructed Choudhary that he had to pay another $10,000 to receive the contract. Choudhary paid the second $10,000 bribe. Following Choudhary’s payment of $20,000 to Official-1, the City of Atlanta awarded the contract to Choudhary’s company.
Choudhary, 58, of Lilburn, Georgia, was sentenced by U.S. District Judge Steve C. Jones to one years, ten months’ imprisonment, to be followed by three years’ supervised release.