Late-Night Business Owner Pleads Guilty to Bribing DeKalb County Zoning Board of Appeals Member
ATLANTA—Ismail Sirdah has pleaded guilty to bribing a member of the DeKalb County Zoning Board of Appeals to secure a variance for his late-night billiard hall, Lulu Billiards in Tucker, Georgia.
“Zoning rules exist to protect neighborhoods from businesses and establishments that might disrupt the residential aspect of our communities,” said Acting U.S. Attorney John Horn. “This case illustrates how greed and cash payments can sell out the legitimate interests of our citizens.”
J. Britt Johnson, Special Agent in Charge, FBI Atlanta Field Office, stated: “While the FBI’s focus in public corruption matters is primarily with that of the public official, it can readily shift to those individuals who attempt to corrupt those officials. That was seen in this case involving Mr. Sirdah, an area business owner, who purchased the vote of a DeKalb County Zoning Board member in a county action that impacted his business. This guilty plea of Mr. Sirdah’s, for those criminal actions, should serve as a reminder that the FBI will not tolerate efforts to unduly and illegally influence government officials in this manner.”
According to Acting 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 must 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 grandfathered in under the 2008 zoning ordinance change.
Ismail Sirdah is the owner and Chief Executive Officer of 2841 Investments, Inc., which does business as LuLu Billiards. LuLu Billiards is a pool hall and bar located in Tucker, DeKalb County, Georgia.
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. Notwithstanding 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 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.
Prior to the hearing on the appeal, Sirdah met with Jeremy “Jerry” Clark, who was a member from the Zoning Board of Appeals. 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, 42, of Lithonia, Georgia, pleaded guilty to accepting a bribe from Sirdah. Clark is scheduled to be sentenced on April 30, 2015, at 10:00 a.m., before United States District Court Judge Leigh Martin May.
On March 25, 2015, Sirdah, 53, of Duluth, Georgia, was charged via a criminal information with one count of bribery. Sirdah pleaded guilty to that charge. The sentencing hearing for Sirdah is scheduled for June 15, 2015, at 11:00 a.m., also before Judge May.
This case is being investigated by the Federal Bureau of Investigation.
Assistant United States Attorney Jeffrey W. Davis is prosecuting the case.