Former-DeKalb County Zoning Board of Appeals Member and Late-Night Business Owner Sentenced for Bribery
ATLANTA – Former DeKalb County Zoning Board of Appeals Member Jeremy “Jerry” Clark and Ismail Sirdah have been sentenced to federal prison on corruption charges. Clark accepted a bribe from Sirdah in exchange for voting for a zoning variance for Sirdah’s late-night billiard hall in DeKalb County, Georgia.
“This is another unfortunate incident of corruption in DeKalb County,” said U.S Attorney John Horn. “Again, I reiterate that the citizens of DeKalb County expect public officials to act with honestly and integrity. Public officials who may be tempted by money and graft remember; we remain committed to investigating and prosecuting acts of corruption regardless of who commits them or where they are.”
“Today’s sentencing serves as a reminder to not only these defendants but other public officials that there are consequences for such actions as seen in this case. Because of the extensive potential damage involved, the FBI regards public corruption investigations as its number one criminal investigative priority and, as such, urges the public to partner with our agents in reporting those who abuse their public offices,” said J. Britt Johnson, Special Agent in Charge, FBI Atlanta Field Office.
According to U.S. Attorney Horn, the charges, and other information presented in court: In November 2008, the DeKalb County (Georgia) Board of Commissioners passed a zoning ordinance that regulated the operation of late-night establishments and nightclubs. As a general matter, the ordinance required that new businesses obtain a Special Land Use Permit if they wanted to operate either as a late-night establishment or as a nightclub. The zoning ordinance provided an exception to the new rule for pre-existing late-night establishments and nightclubs, which allowed those businesses to be exempt from the 2008 zoning ordinance change.
Ismail Sirdah was the owner and Chief Executive Officer of 2841 Investments, Inc., which did business as LuLu Billiards. LuLu Billiards was a pool hall and bar located in Tucker, Georgia, which is located in DeKalb County.
Based on the new zoning ordinance, in November 2011, the DeKalb County Department of Planning and Sustainability informed LuLu Billiards in writing that it was grandfathered in only as a late-night business – and thus could neither operate as a nightclub nor have a dance floor. Despite the notice, Lulu Billiards operated as a nightclub and possessed a dance floor.
In September 2012, the Department of Planning and Sustainability issued a warning to Sirdah through LuLu Billiards for operating as a nightclub with a dance floor. In the warning, Sirdah was again advised that under the new zoning ordinance, LuLu Billiards could not operate as a nightclub or have a dance floor without a Special Land Use Permit.
Sirdah responded that LuLu Billiards had operated as a nightclub prior to the 2008 zoning ordinance – and as a result, should be grandfathered in as a nightclub under the new zoning rule.
Sirdah appealed not being able to operate LuLu Billiards as a nightclub to the DeKalb County Zoning Board of Appeals. The Zoning Board of Appeals hears and decides zoning appeals when a property owner alleges that a county official committed a zoning error. From January 2009 to May 2013, Jeremy Clark served as a member of the Zoning Board of Appeals.
Prior to the hearing on the appeal, Sirdah met with Clark. During those meetings, Sirdah made it clear to Clark, that if the Zoning Board of Appeals approved Sirdah’s petition to operate as a nightclub, Clark would be rewarded.
In November 2012, the Zoning Board of Appeals approved Sirdah’s request to operate as a nightclub. Clark voted in favor of LuLu Billiards being able to operate as a nightclub. In return for the vote, Sirdah paid Clark approximately $2000 in cash and donated approximately $1,500 to a non-profit interest with which Clark was involved.
On February 19, 2015, Clark, 43, of Lithonia, Georgia, pleaded guilty to accepting a bribe from Sirdah. He was sentenced to nine months in prison followed by three years of supervised release and order to pay a $3,500 fine.
On April 2, 2015, Sirdah, 53, of Duluth, Georgia, pleaded guilty to bribing Clark. He was sentenced to six months in prison followed by two years of supervised release and order to pay a $10,000 fine.
These cases were investigated by the Federal Bureau of Investigation.
Assistant United States Attorney Jeffrey W. Davis prosecuted the cases.
For further information please contact the U.S. Attorney’s Public Affairs Office at USAGAN.PressEmails@usdoj.gov or (404) 581-6016. The Internet address for the home page for the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Northern District of Georgia Atlanta Division is http://www.justice.gov/usao/gan/.