ATLANTA (AP) — Federal authorities are investigating whether Atlanta’s airport illegally diverted money to the city.
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reports the Federal Aviation Administration sent notice of the investigation to the city of Atlanta, which owns and operates Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport.
The FAA also subpoenaed airport invoices from 2016 through mid-2018.
The notice, filed Thursday, says the city acknowledged that invoices totaling more than $100,000 “were wrongly paid from airport funds” and reimbursed the airport.
Federal regulations prohibit spending airport money on anything other than the airport’s capital or operating costs, and the FAA could withhold federal funds if it finds unlawful diversions of revenue.
The FAA’s investigation notice cites a newspaper report that the city may have used airport money to pay legal fees to respond to a federal corruption probe into Atlanta City Hall. After that article, the federal agency opened an inquiry into the possible misuse of airport revenue and requested records on legal expenditures. The airport submitted heavily redacted invoices and other documents in response.
The FAA says in its investigation notice that it has already determined the city “may have made ineligible payments to law firms from airport revenue accounts,” but it could not make conclusive findings because of the extensive redactions.
The agency said the city “on multiple occasions” has refused to comply with FAA requests for unredacted invoices involving legal fees.
The city has 30 days to respond to the notice of investigation and the subpoena.
Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms’ spokesman, Michael Smith, said the city is surprised by the FAA filing, along with claims that the city refused to provide documents.
“In all of its communications, the city has been clear about its desire to cooperate and has taken steps to do so while maintaining its attorney-client privilege and work product protections,” Smith said in the statement. “Waiving our asserted privileges is an extraordinary and unreasonable request.”
The city has said it can provide unredacted invoices only under a court order.