Jury Finds Zeba Bar Owner Paid Off Officials for Five Years
WASHINGTON – Davoud Jafari, 72, a Washington D.C. nightclub owner, was found guilty today of bribery, conspiracy, and wire-fraud. The offenses arise from a multi-year-scheme in which he bribed former D.C. Tax Official Vincent Slater in order to avoid paying several hundred thousand dollars in business-related taxes. U.S. District Court Judge Reggie B. Walton will sentence Jafari on January 25, 2024.
The verdict was announced by U.S. Attorney Matthew M. Graves, FBI Special Agent in Charge Wayne A. Jacobs, with the Washington Field Office Criminal and Cyber Division, D.C. Inspector General Daniel W. Lucas, and the D.C.Chief Financial Officer Glen Lee.
According to the evidence at trial, Jafari owned a company called Gevani, Inc., which in turn owned and operated Zeba Bar and Grill, located in Columbia Heights. Between October 2012 and December 2017, Jafari collected sales and use taxes from Zeba Bar and Grill customers consisting of 10 percent of the cost of food and drinks purchased. Although Jafari was supposed to turn those tax dollars over to the district on a monthly basis, he instead wrote a check to middleman and co-defendant Anthony Merritt for approximately half the amount of taxes due. Merritt cashed the check and shared the proceeds with Slater, the then-manager of the District of Columbia’s Office of Tax Revenue’s (OTR) Adjustment Unit. In exchange, Slater took actions to falsify records for Jafari and to help Jafari’s company evade collection efforts by other OTR officials.
Merritt pleaded guilty to all charges in the indictment on the first day of trial. On June 7, 2023, a separate jury also convicted Merritt of bribery, conspiracy, and wire fraud for playing a similar role in a different scheme on behalf of businessman Andre De Moya (who was also convicted at trial). Merritt is scheduled to be sentenced in both cases on January 19, 2024. Slater previously pleaded guilty for his role in the Jafari scheme and the De Moya scheme and is awaiting a sentencing date.
“Today’s verdict, and the investigation that preceded it, demonstrate the U.S. Attorney’s Office’s unwavering commitment to prosecuting and holding accountable individuals who seek to corrupt our local government agencies by bribing the public officials who work within them,” said U.S. Attorney Matthew M. Graves. “The defendants in these cases entered multiyear conspiracies to defraud the District of Columbia and its citizens. We will continue our tireless efforts to confront and eradicate such acts of corruption.”
“Today’s guilty verdict is a positive step toward bringing Mr. Jafari and his co-conspirators to justice for their scheme to defraud the government and taxpayers of the District of Columbia,” said FBI Special Agent in Charge Jacobs. “The FBI will continue to work aggressively with our partners to enforce public corruption laws.”
The statutory maximum sentence for conspiracy is five years in prison; for bribery, is 15 years in prison; and for wire fraud, is 20 years in prison. U.S. District Judge Reggie B. Walton will determine the appropriate sentence based on the guideline range and other factors.
In announcing the verdict, U.S. Attorney Graves commended the work of the agencies who investigated the case, including the FBI’s Washington Field Office and the District of Columbia Office of the Inspector General, with substantial assistance by the District of Columbia Office of the Chief Financial Officer, Office of Integrity and Oversight. He also expressed appreciation for the efforts of those who handled the case for the U.S. Attorney’s Office, including Paralegal Specialists Liliana Villamizar Michon Tart, Amanda Rhode, and Mariela Andrade, and former paralegal specialist Aisha Keys.
Finally, he acknowledged the work of Assistant United States Attorneys Emily Miller and Timothy Visser, who prosecuted the case at trial, and Assistant United States Attorneys Emily Miller and Molly Gaston, who investigated the case.