Atlanta airport vendor in business with Mayor Reed's close friend

- For years it seems like Chef G. Garvin was everywhere.  Whether cooking up a storm on Good Day Atlanta, authoring cookbooks, or hosting his own Cooking Channel show. He was watched and read by millions.

In 2012 he turned his attention to the  Atlanta airport food scene, winning a spot to open a first of its kind concept, LowCountry New Southern Cuisine. Garvin was a winner in the hotly contested, hard-fought, food and retail bids that ended up with court fights and Mayor Kasim Reed's fundraisers as huge winners.

Garvin's company partnered with Hojeij Branded Foods, a big player at the airport and fundraiser for Kasim Reed and Keisha Lance Bottoms.  It appears successful. Last year LowCountry grossed more than 3 million dollars.

But, Hojeij Branded Foods is currently under a Mayor's office investigation for a possible conflict of interest. Why? Because the FOX 5 I-Team reported that Hojeij - who is seeking millions in business at the Atlanta airport - is business partners with the wife of the airport deputy GM over concessions, Cortez Carter.

We found Charisse Carter and Hojiej working together at a recent grand opening of a Chick Fil A at Reagan National Airport in Washington DC.

A Hojieij spokesperson said the arrangement was made before Carter was hired by the city and his wife Charisse Carter has no business with Hojiej in Atlanta.

Mayor Reed suspended Carter the day our report aired and opened an investigation into Hojeij's current and pending contracts. 

But, the FOX 5 I-Team has learned that while the Mayor's office is investigating Hojeij's airport contracts, Hojeij Branded Foods is currently in business here in Atlanta with one of Mayor Kasim Reed's best friends, Los Angeles attorney Dennis Ellis.

City Hall sources describe Dennis Ellis as one of Mayor Reed's best friends.  The two attended Howard Law School together.  According to Wiki Leaks, they co-hosted a 2012 fundraiser together in California. And on this Facebook page, Ellis raised money from Howard Alumni for his friend's reelection.

But you won't easily find Ellis' name in Low Country's airport bid. LowCountry Restaurant's 2011 letter submitted to the airport showing it planned to partner with Hojeij didn't include Dennis Ellis' name. Ellis wouldn't comment, when we reached him by phone. We don't know if he was involved then, but we do know Ellis is involved now.

On Garvin's low country website, he credits his "co-founder" TC Mosby Investments as providing "financing to the company" and "promotion, the hiring of employees, legal matters."

Who TC Mosby Investments? We found a government document in Washington DC that shows the president of T.C. Mosby Investments is Dennis Ellis.

And, we found a  2015 California corporate record that shows Dennis Ellis and Gerry Garvin as managers of LowCountry Restaurant. Ellis is listed as the CEO.

We took our findings to director of good government group, Common Cause, Sara Henderson. 

"Maybe it's not a blood relative necessarily but it's someone in his circle so there's definitely a conflict of interest," said Henderson.

She believes the Hojiej conflict of interest investigation should be done by an independent outside party - not the Mayor's office.

"Let's start the bidding process all over. We've got new counsel lots of new council members will have a new mayor. Mayor Reed should not have rushed this process through," she said.

Hojiej Branded Foods had no comment.  A spokesperson for the Mayor didn't answer our direct question but wrote that the city earlier announced it would conduct a review of pending awards and current contracts of  Hojeij after learning about a possible conflict of interest.  

The city has done that and the review is still underway, and the City has "not moved forward with any new airport food or retail contracts."

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