A jury chosen in a civil trial Monday will determine whether an executive at Denver International Airport was bribed into rigging bids for the largest concession contract in airport history.
The incendiary allegation, first made in a lawsuit nearly six years ago and adamantly denied by all defendants ever since, gained some credence this year when two of the defendants pleaded guilty in an unrelated criminal case to bribing a Florida airport executive in Aspen.
While those two Michigan men — Samir Mashni and Noureddine “Dean” Hachem — await sentencing in a Denver federal court, they may be at the defense table in Denver District Court this week, where lawyers for a local company will accuse them of another bribery.
In 2015, DIA solicited bids for a lucrative contract that came to be called “the four-pack.” The airport wanted one company to run two restaurants, a brewpub and a coffee shop.
A local bidder was DIA Brewing Co., which is affiliated with Wynkoop Brewing and the Cherry Cricket. But it lost out to Midfield Concession Enterprises of Michigan — Mashni and Hachem’s company — which got a 10-year contract to operate two Smashburgers, a brewpub in the Westin Hotel and a coffee bar. Those four locations had sales of $18 million last year, according to airport revenue reports.
In early 2018, DIA Brewing sued Midfield, Mashni, Hachem and 10 other defendants, alleging they had bribed DIA chief revenue officer Bhavesh Patel in exchange for Patel rigging the bid process. Patel, who left DIA in 2016, has denied the allegation and has never been charged with a crime. A judge later dismissed him from the DIA Brewing lawsuit.
The remaining defendants say the 2015 bidding process was fair, Midfield won because its proposal was best and DIA Brewing is just upset because it came in fourth place.
“Plaintiff’s claims are unsupported by any admissible evidence,” lawyers for the defendants wrote in a court brief Thursday, “but are based on hearsay and double hearsay.”
Since the lawsuit was filed, it has taken an unusual and circuitous route to trial. It was twice thrown out by judges and then twice revived by the Colorado Supreme Court. Lead plaintiff’s attorney Steve Long has died since filing the lawsuit. And the list of defendants has been whittled down to four: Mashni, Hachem, Midfield and Midfield’s subsidiary at DIA.
DIA Brewing will ask jurors to award it between $20 million and $71.5 million in direct damages. It will also seek punitive damages that could push a verdict into nine figures. But if it loses, it will have to pay the mountain of attorney fees that defendants have amassed over six years.
The trial is scheduled to last three weeks in the downtown courtroom of Judge Jill Dorancy. Patel, the former DIA executive, will be called to the witness stand by DIA Brewing, according to a witness list it provided to the court. The defendants may also call him.
DIA Brewing’s witness list, which is 45 names long, also includes executives from Wynkoop and the Cherry Cricket, as well as John Osa, a retired FBI agent who investigated bid-rigging at DIA, and Gerard Stafford, a purported whistleblower who Osa once chased down I-70.
The defendants list many of the same witnesses, including former Smashburger executives Mashni and Hachem. They have experts to testify on airport bidding and concessions.
DIA Brewing’s legal team is headed up by Mark Lukehart of MGL Law in Colorado Springs, who declined to comment on the trial. He will make the plaintiff’s case alongside Alan Friedberg of Berg Hill Greenleaf Ruscitti in Boulder and a trio of attorneys from Florida.
The defense will be led by Peter Gergely of Merchant & Gould in Denver, alongside colleagues Ryan Fletcher, Kristen Souther and Paige Stradley. They declined to comment.