Thursday, April 9, 2015

From the Peach Pundit.

by George Chidi 

I’m dumping my notes today, simply to keep from being swept up by events. Things are moving fast in DeKalb County. Beware – I plan to speculate today.

No one knows Ismail. Only, everyone knows Ismail, if you get me.

I stopped in at El Matador in February. It’s one of the restaurants owned by Sirdah Enterprises. I asked for the owner. The staff knew the guy is named Ismail, but that’s all they knew. They pronounced the name “Ishmael.” They have no way to contact him, a server told me. Try the number on the posters on the club next door, she said.

“Leave your name and your number, and if he wants to talk to you, he’ll call,” the nameless young man on the other end of the line said with surprising candor. I asked for Ismail’s last name. “Man, I don’t know.” I hung up. Other numbers led to phone mail that was full or phone mail that wasn’t set up or wrong numbers.

A couple of days later, I stopped in at Lulu Billiares, a dimly-lit pool joint and restaurant next door. The bouncer approached me, all smiles, in exactly the way bouncers do when they’re trying to figure out if they have to tank someone’s aggro; hands forward and open, weight on the balls of the feet. I asked for Ismail. He stopped for a moment, trying to assess whether I might be a cop or a creditor, before answering too casually that he doesn’t know anyone named Ishmael.

He asked the guy unloading liquor if he knew. Ishmael would be back in the office tomorrow around 10 a.m., the guy replied in Spanish. Someone didn’t get the memo.

Last month, the U.S. Attorney’s office in Atlanta indicted Ismail Sirdah on a count of bribery. Sirdah pleaded guilty last week.

Coincidentally, the name on the marquee of the club changed later in the day I visited to “La Vaca Billiards.”

The club, right next to the offices of Lulu Productions, kitty corner to the El Noa Noa club at the end of dingy little Pittsburg Plaza in Tucker, has suddenly become the most politically important strip mall in DeKalb County.  

People in Tucker plan to form a city. One of the reasons Tucker partisans give when asked why has been rampant DeKalb County corruption. Incorporated cities can take over services from the county, like the planning and zoning process.

That might have seemed like a small thing. But the FBI’s bust of a zoning board official for taking bribes to keep a shady night club open rather illustrates the problem.

The FBI’s news release touting the guilty plea of now-disgraced zoning board of appeals member Jerry Clark said that a “late-night establishment in Tucker” was under instruction from the planning department to stop operating as a nightclub, because they weren’t zoned for it.

Only Lulu Billiards matched the description in the November 2012 meeting minutes of the DeKalb ZBA. Lulu Promotions And Music Llc was the applicant. And Ismail Sirdah owns that firm, along with a half-dozen others.

Two proposed cities — Tucker and LaVista Hills — have been battling over borders for about two years. The busy street corner where Chamblee-Tucker Road bends into Tucker-Norcross Road had been the edge of disputed territory, fought over block by block in legislative committee hearings late last year. It’s commercial property, which helps the tax base of any city containing it. But its filled with the kind of businesses that give the vapors to folks with class pretensions. Pool halls. Car shops. A club catering to Latinos.

Somehow, when the dust settled in the committee room, Pittsburg Plaza managed to find itself a jagged corner of the Tucker map.

And then … it wasn’t. State Sen. Fran Millar, the cantankerous Republican representing north DeKalb, decided to screw State Rep. Scott Holcomb with a map change.

Millar said he moved the Livsey precinct and assorted territory into LaVista Hills because residents there told him that they would rather be there than Tucker. The House special committee determined otherwise, but, whatever.

I’m a cynical, miserable bastard of course, so it was hard not to notice that the change just happens to shift territory in Holcomb’s district that he carried by thin margins relative to his stronger base of support in Doraville and Chamblee. The area contains about 2000 expected votes … and about 500 votes in the area of Holcomb’s district now remaining in Tucker.

Holcomb, an Iraq War veteran and attorney, holds a nominally-Republican district as a Democrat, and is widely considered a future candidate for statewide office, though he may move elsewhere. The margin of his victories is a shift of about 900 votes in a presidential election year or 350 votes in an off year. And the map change leaves Holcomb perched between Scylla and Charybdis, with some number of Tucker supporters ready to punish him if he goes along with it and some number of Livsey voters ready to punish him if he doesn’t.

“It is time for Democratic State Representative Scott Holcomb to step up and get his caucus to support the Agree votes in the House,” Millar said. That might be read as “Eat me, Holcomb. Talk your way out of this, pretty-boy.”

After the assembled masses in the House pitched a fit, Tucker, LaVista Hills and Millar cut a deal. LaVista Hills got most of the voters. Tucker got … Lulu Billares.

I’ve been quietly watching the fall of Sirdah, Clark and Patrick Jackson for a little while now. Jackson, DeKalb’s head of custodial services also somehow managed to be a full-time employee for the Georgia World Congress Center … and on the take with a contractor as well. He pleaded guilty on federal charges last week, too.

Jackson is almost certainly looking at jail time, given how blatant his crimes were.
Clark is small fry, but he got Sirdah. Now Sirdah’s back is up against the wall. Sirdah lost a $300,000 judgment in January for mistreating waitstaff at Taboo in Sandy Springs. He tried and failed to file for bankruptcy. The court rejected his filing because he didn’t disclose his assets properly. His plea comes with a recommended sentence of a year and a day. He wouldn’t get that deal without something to give.

The nightclubs he owns or runs promotions for through Lulu Promotions — the now-defunct Echelon 3000, Coco Cabana at Tucker Festival, La Rumba in Doraville on Buford Highway and others — have long been a sore spot for DeKalb Police, but are also the sort of places police officers might have been earning a living as an off-duty security side gig … or to look the other way when permit violations occurred. After the mass arrest of area police a couple of years ago for protecting drug dealers, I suspect (ah, that word) the FBI has had antennae up for more. This may be their way to get at a deeper problem in the force, and have nothing at all to do with political corruption.
On the other hand, Sirdah is a heavy political donor, maxing out to Vernon Jones’ goofy Senate campaign in 2008 and donating to other candidates, both statewide and in DeKalb and Clayton County.

Clark begat Sirdah. Sirdah and Jackson beget … who? The three soon-to-be cooperating witnesses are dominoes falling. The question is where the line ends.

To note what is surely just a coincidence, the same day the U.S. Attorney’s Office issued an indictment on Sirdah, Morris Williams, the long-time insider in DeKalb County government, resigned without warning. Retired, actually. So did some folks in watershed management.
Williams hasn’t been charged with anything. He may not ever be charged with anything. But he knows everything.

Williams has been in DeKalb government since the Liane Levitan administration. He served as chief of staff for the commission for years. He served under both Burrell Ellis and Vernon Jones. He is the one person who almost certainly knows where all the bodies are buried. And — I note merely for the record — retiring before refusing questions from Lee May’s investigators means his pension can’t be jeopardized by a firing for cause.

If it seems like there’s crazy corruption under every surface of this county, you could hardly be blamed.

Burrell Ellis, DeKalb’s elected chief executive, escaped conviction on corruption charges last year by a single juror’s vote. The hung jury extended the fetor of unresolved charges hanging over the county. 

As long as May serves as CEO – and chooses not to resign the District 5 commission seat – the chair representing about half of south DeKalb’s voters remains empty.

That screws up county government, of course. But it also massively complicates federal prosecutions. Suppose (there’s that speculative word) the FBI planned to indict one or more county commissioners. The DoJ might be credibly accused of disenfranchising African-American voters right in the middle of a serious political question — the incorporation movement. Never mind all the zoning and planning and purchasing decisions that would have to be held.

Still, that’s already a problem. Commissioner Stan Watson works on the side for a politically-connected developer, Vaughn Irons … who happened to be the head of DeKalb’s development board before May unceremoniously defenestrated him last month. Irons started drawing fire in February when he thought it a good idea to try to build something akin to a casino with hundreds of grotty video lottery terminals in South DeKalb.

The commission approved it … and then had to take it back after discovering that their vote didn’t pass legal muster. The law requires a commissioner representing the district to approve it. May can’t vote while he’s acting CEO. And Watson, whose superdistrict overlaps the parcel, can’t vote because he’s on the developer’s payroll.

Watson has been trying to lower his profile since June, after the AJC hilariously caught him trying to hide his connection to two now-convicted men facing public corruption charges in South Carolina. So much for that.

The media then discovered that Irons’ firm, APD Solutions, had somehow managed to obtain a written ethics waiver in 2011 allowing it to bid on millions of dollars in county contracts, even though no one on the ethics board says they actually issued it. Watson voted on these contracts, despite black-letter law requiring him to recuse himself.
Irons told me to “be careful” a few weeks ago, after reading my opinion on Facebook about his predicament. “My explanations are clear,” he said in a Facebook message. “The reporting is biased and incomplete. I’m looking forward to the investigation which will clear me of ANY wrong doing. As I said you’ll eat your words soon enough and I’ll be waiting eagerly awaiting your apology from you and others.”


Anyway, May’s absence has tied the commission into knots … which I’m beginning to suspect is purposeful. Even by DeKalb County standards, we’re at Wagnerian levels of infighting. Last month, Commissioner Sharon Barnes-Sutton took the not-at-all-suspicious step of filing a Georgia Open Records Act request to see email from May, the district attorney and other commissioners, hoping to determine who might be cooperating with the FBI or state investigators in a criminal probe of her.
That looks completely insane, of course. I have a pet theory to explain it.

Last year, it became clear that the FBI has every commissioner’s phone tapped and was watching contracting. Right around then, the county started considering big land deals. A 3-3 deadlock scuttled financially-questionable plans for DeKalb to buy a YMCA for $5 million, for example. The not-a-casino in South DeKalb was tied into an Indian gaming company in Louisiana, and would have been worth millions.

I suggest two possibilities. (More speculation.) The FBI could have told May and other commissioners to stall for time while they build their case. Prevent big moves until we have enough evidence to convict bad actors, they could have been told. May’s empty seat helps prevent the commission from making big deals, the kind that might come with money under the table. Money for lawyers. Money for friends. Money for plane tickets to Argentina. That might explain a fishing expedition by a sitting commissioner.

A more dire possibility: May is deliberately protecting people by remaining the interim CEO. Leaving the District 5 seat open may be an informal block to further indictments.
Or, May could simply be protecting his seat from being filled so he can return to it after this is over, or to prevent it from being filled by someone he doesn’t trust. Given the circumstances, trust is a rare commodity.

District Attorney Robert James is undoubtedly coming under pressure to settle the Ellis case one way or another. A deal that removes him from office — even if it doesn’t ultimately send him to jail — might be considered a victory for good governance … if not justice. But James doesn’t have the power to compel the feds not to turn around and indict Ellis themselves, which might (even more speculation) make Ellis reluctant to accept any deal while he has a tenuous grasp on elected office as leverage.

Enough speculating. The dominoes are falling. We’ll know soon enough.


Anonymous said...

If you check a little further all of Sidrah's clubs have now been allegedly sold to his own employees. Just a change of owner's name to protect his assets so when he serves his sentence he is still at the wheel. These clubs are very dirty and drug cartel affiliated. DeKalb P.D. has for a long time allowed that part time cash to blind them to his dealings. Maybe the FBI didn't need a part time job! The late night SLUP permit that was obtained through bribes should be revoked by the board and reapplied for. The new owner should have to reapply, the state revenue agency should verify all alcohol permits match the names that are currently on signs of the clubs. It is obvious that DeKalb P.D. will not do it. Alexander should not reinstate officers part times at these clubs due to this guilty plea and all the shady dealings associated. This plaza does not have adequate parking on the weekends, has drug dealings inside, girls stripping, and drunks fighting. All so Mr. Sidrah or his employees can continue to pocket the cash. The new owner's are nothing more than front men or women for Ismael to continue his enterprise. The county needs to enforce the codes, laws, overcrowding, parking, and alcohol permits at these locations.

Anonymous said...

Once again George, you pick and choose what you want to talk about as it ONLY suits your personal agenda of trying to look like a thoughtful, intellectual good guy of some kind. But NONE OF US ON THIS BLOG have forgotten that when you were asked some very simple and direct questions regarding YOUR LEADERSHIP at Pine Lake, you ducked and dodged and suddenly, didn't want to talk to us anymore.

In fact, in an effort to take the light off of yourself and your PD, you lowered yourself to ask us to identify ourselves (or you wouldn't answer) KNOWING the exact nature of this forum before you posted. Asking us that is the same as trying to attack the person(s) asking the intelligent questions instead of focusing on the validity and truthfulness of the matter George.

No one here really cares about your ranting and (less than in depth) analysis of seemingly everyone and everything BUT YOU, your council's actions and the incompetence surrounding Pine lake.

No one should be kind enough to respond to your latest article until you answer some the basic questions that you were asked a couple of months ago and failed to answer.

You runaway from answering questions about yourself but love to ask probing questions and throw rocks at others.


Unless YOU are willing to answer tough questions about YOUR conduct, you should remain silent in trying to raise questions about the conduct of others.

I think it's only fair George Chidi.

For those who are new or have forgotten, here's the transcript of how George responds when challenged on this forum. You be the judge.

Anonymous said...

I'm buying popcorn and a front row seat to see Dekalb's corrupt finally get what's coming to them. WhoooHooo!

Anonymous said...

I'm not gonna bet they'll all get fried... Just a select few if we're lucky.

Anonymous said...

George C,
Fran Millar(1) and his surrogates have been planning another Dumbwoody controlled city for years. They want a north county school district and political subdivisions that don't look, like you. They've even passed a "reform" in the HOST so you (2) can pay for their cities. Hopefully you can theorize on that nugget.

And while you have been quietly watching the down fall of these characters, members of the DeKalb Police and the DA's office with federal assistance have been working to expose them and their political connections. Obstacle after obstacle was place in front of the detectives but their determined work is now coming to fruition. It started with a tip about watershed and it grew from there. They have quietly done some amazing work that dipstick politicians suddenly want to embrace. Where were they several years ago? The news media could of broke these stories long ago but they were more interested in stringing it out for ratings. Notice how the media's investigations resemble GJ info? We wouldnt be where we are today with out the dedicated work of detectives from the DeKalb Police and the District Atty's Office. Bowers much publicized investigation is an administrative investigation and not a criminal investigation and I'm not expecting much.

But George what possible reason do you have for defaming the DeKalb Police again with your theory that the police are part of the political problems?(3). And George the idea that officers were looking the other way is an urban myth. Officers did work security, ala parking lot security or dealing with the drunks who wouldn't leave, but no wholesale disregard of ordinanaces and laws occurred. There are plenty of police reports and citations on file for you to review that show otherwise. The "mass arrest" was one arrest connected to patrons of one of Sirdah's clubs for crimes that occurred in Gwinnett County. BTW, members of the PINE LAKE PD are still working at PIN UPS and engaging in unusual behavior. Local residents have even blamed (4) DeKalb Police for the activity of the Pine Lake Officers. Have you researched your officers back grounds and why they no longer work for their previous police department? What sanctions were imposed on the Pine Lake officer who got shot at a few months ago by the angry husband? What sanctions were imposed on the Pine Lake officers who decided to help them selves to "freebies" at the annexed stores?
(1) or

Anonymous said...

One thing which is definite.....Tucker will be getting the short end of the stick. In other words, Tucker would be better off if it stayed the same as it is now.

There is no need for a layer of taxation for CODE ENFORCEMENT, PARKS & RECREATION, & ZONING.
nothing is gained by this stupidity. Let LaVista Hills tax themselves to death, and see how many county services they are going to rely on anyway.

What all this adds up to is a layer of BULLSHIT and nothing more

Happy Trails to Lavista Hills

Anonymous said...

Look at the AJC today. Elaine Boyer's aide is being charged for using his p-card for personal use. Please - somebody explain to me why the other two Commissioners who have been caught doing the same thing - then gave the excuse "nobody told me I was doing anything wrong" have not been charged...who gets charged seems awfully arbitrary.

Anonymous said...

Mall cop says were runnning out of part time gigs if every place we work gets busted. A go fund me account has been set up to get mall cop a new segway, busy weekend coming up!

Anonymous said...

Someone needs to look at Ron Gaither and the use of the county P-Card and the kick back he's getting from Motorola. I did some digging on this and there is something very wrong there and I mean very wrong. He has covered up more than you know. Any where from bad relationships to failed attempts in other fields. We will just leave it at that. If it wasn't for Chief Moody old Ron would have been dismissed years ago. Look at that P-Card use please. Someone, anyone.