Former Atlanta Official Convicted in Airport Corruption Trial
ATLANTA (AP) _ A former Atlanta aviation commissioner and city councilman was convicted Saturday of using his influence to win lucrative deals for businesses at Atlanta’s airport in which he had secret interests.
A federal jury deliberated for six hours before convicting Ira Jackson on 83 counts of mail fraud, 43 counts of accepting bribes and four counts of tax evasion. He was acquitted of one tax evasion count.
U.S. District Court Judge Anthony Alaimo set sentencing for April 16. Jackson faces up to 857 years in prison and a fine of $32.5 million.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Sally Yates, the chief prosecutor in the two-year investigation, said she was surprised by the quick verdict but ″very pleased.″ The three-week trial included 60 witnesses and 60,000 documents.
Neither Jackson nor his attorney, Tony Axam, would comment as they left the courthouse.
Jackson was tried along with Mack Wilbourn and Dan Paradies, who owned businesses at Hartsfield Atlanta International Airport.
Paradies, the majority owner of the gift shop operation at Hartsfield, was accused of scheming to bribe city council members and to make Jackson a partner in the business. Wilbourn, part owner of a Paradies company, was accused of acting as a front for Jackson’s secret ownership in the business.
Wilbourn was acquitted of all charges. He had faced a maximum sentence of 425 years in prison and a $21 million fine if convicted of 83 counts of mail fraud and one count of witness tampering.
Paradies was convicted of 83 counts of mail fraud and one count of conspiracy. He faces 420 years in prison and a $21 million fine. Two companies controlled by Paradies also were convicted of corporate violations.
Attorneys for Jackson and Paradies said they would appeal. Both men remained free on bond while the case is appealed.
Wilbourn said he was innocent. ″The government railroaded me,″ he said. Paradies’ lawyer, Bobby Lee Cook, also was surprised at the quick verdict. ″I would have thought that they would have been out somewhat longer,″ he said.
Hartsfield, one of the world’s busiest airports, is owned and operated by the city.
Jackson was an influential City Council member from 1969 until 1990, when he was appointed aviation commissioner and put in charge of running the airport. He resigned in 1992 amid the unfolding corruption investigation.
The federal trial, which began Jan. 3, cast a shadow on Hartsfield and the city’s political establishment - especially as testimony implicated prominent officials who were not charged in the case.
Among the stunning evidence presented was a videotape showing businessman Harold Echols, who pleaded guilty to conspiracy and was the prosecution’s star witness, placing $500 in City Council President Marvin Arrington’s coat pocket.
Arrington, who has not been accused of any crime, staunchly denied any wrongdoing. He insisted the only monies he ever took from Echols were campaign contributions.
Echols also testified that he bribed Mayor Bill Campbell while Campbell was a city councilman. Campbell denies any wrongdoing and has not been charged.
″I guess the jury has spoken for themselves. End of story,″ Campbell said after the verdict.
The trial brought a chorus of criticism from Southern Christian Leadership Conference President Joseph Lowery and others that prosecutors were smearing the reputations of some of Atlanta’s top leaders.
Jackson testified that he never accepted bribes, and denied that receiving profits from airport businesses were a conflict of interest.
Former City Councilman D.L. ″Buddy″ Fowlkes and Jackson, Miss., businessman Dave Gammill were named in separate indictments related to the scandal. They have not yet been tried.