Atlanta ethics board finds conflict of interest involving former airport official

It was a story broken by our FOX 5 I-Team last year. The wife of then Atlanta airport deputy general manager, Cortez Carter, was a business partner with an Atlanta airport food vendor in another state.

It happened under the watch of Mayor Kasim Reed -- and while the airport vendor, Hojeij Branded Foods, was chasing millions of dollars in new Atlanta contracts. Mayor Reed put Carter on leave, and the city ethics officer opened an investigation. 

Thursday night, city ethics officer, Jabu Sengova, unveiled the findings of her investigation to the Ethics Board.  She found probable cause that Carter failed to properly disclose his personal and financial interest in his wife’s business.

The ethics commission investigation followed a FOX 5 I-Team investigation of Cortez Carter's wife and one of the biggest airport vendors, Hojeij Branded Foods.

We found Charisse Works Carter was announced as a minority partner with Hojeij at Regan National Airport in Washington DC September of 2017.

The announcement came as Hojeij was selected as a potential winner in the controversial 2017 food and retail bids here in Atlanta.

Those Atlanta airport bids have since been put on hold by new Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms.

A Hojiej spokesperson told us Charisse Carter's company was in a "protege program" and became a 10% minority partner at that Washington DC Chick-Fil-A. This happened right before her husband was hired by the city of Atlanta two months later. Hojeij says Ms. Carter has no airport business in Atlanta.

Jabu Sengova told the ethics board that Carter, when he was hired, informed then airport general manager Miquel Southwell that his wife was in business with Hojeij in DC.  But, at the time, Carter's job had nothing to do with concessions. 

She said other airport employees would also learn that Carter's wife was in the airport concessions business.

“City personnel did personally meet with Carter's wife, Charisse Works, at airport revenue conferences. There were two conferences. There were some that did know of her company Airworks,” said Sengova. 

After General Manager Southwell left the city, new General Manager Roosevelt Council promoted Carter and gave him responsibility over airport concessions. The ethics investigation found that Carter now had a personal and financial interest in possible Hojeij contracts because of his wife's partnership with Hojeij.

“However, we found no evidence of improper influence from Carter during the time he oversaw concessions that would have benefited Hojiej,” said Sengova.

The board ultimately voted that there was probable cause to find Carter had a conflict of interest. Board member Nichola Hines said the main problem was Carter failed to officially disclose his wife's relationship while Hojeij Branded Foods was seeking millions of dollars in new contracts last year.

“He didn't disclose that conflict of interest and should have abstained or walked away from that particular, anything that had to do with (Hojeij) in renewing contracts,” said Hines.

Mayor Bottoms fired Carter earlier this year and he was not at the hearing.  Mayor Bottoms also put the 100 million dollars in airport contracts on hold while she revamps the city’s procurement process.