Guilty verdict in Atlanta City Hall corruption trial

ATLANTA (AP) — A jury found a political operative and former Atlanta city employee guilty Wednesday on charges including money laundering, wire fraud and conspiracy to commit bribery that resulted from a long-running federal investigation into corruption at City Hall.

Mitzi Bickers was the first person to go to trial over the investigation into corruption during former Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed’s administration. A jury of six men and six women found her guilty on nine of twelve counts, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported.

Bickers, who helped Reed win election and then worked as his director of human services, was accused of using her influence to funnel business to city contractors Elvin “E.R.” Mitchell Jr. and Charles P. Richards Jr. Prosecutors said she directed roughly $17 million in city work to the two men and their companies in exchange for about $2 million in bribes.

Both men pleaded guilty in 2017 to conspiring to pay bribes, were sentenced to prison and were witnesses for the government against Bickers.

“Good government necessarily depends on government employees serving the interests of the public first,” U.S. Attorney Kurt Erskine said in a statement following the verdict. “Government contracts should always go to the most qualified bidder through a contracting process that is both fair and transparent.”

During the trial, prosecutors showed the jury bank accounts, deposits, withdrawals and wired transfers connecting Bickers to Mitchell and Richards, the newspaper reported. She is alleged to have used the illicit payments for a lakefront home, a luxury SUV, jet skis and expensive travel.

Juror Tonya Dale told reporters after the trial that prosecutors laid out overwhelming evidence of a money trail.

“We felt like in our deliberations it was easily proven she accepted bribes,” Dale said.

Jurors found Bickers not guilty of one count of conspiracy to commit bribery that had to do with alleged actions after she stopped working for the city, a count of bribery stemming from unsuccessful efforts to get contracts in Jackson, Mississippi, and one count of witness tampering, the newspaper reported.

Defense attorney Drew Findling said Bickers will appeal.

He and his co-counsel, Marissa Goldberg, had painted Mitchell as a liar who tried to pin blame on others after federal agents approached him.

Findling said the trial was “haunted” by a city official who didn’t testify but who Mitchell and prosecutors said Bickers bribed.

“That is a very significant person that was mentioned in opening statements and I will do that person the respect of not mentioning her name,” Findling said. “And we did not have the benefit of cross examining that person. It created a lot of difficulty.”

He said the fact that that woman was included in evidence but did not testify will be part of Bickers’ appeal.

That person and another current city employee were placed on paid administrative leave this month after their names came up during the trial, the Journal-Constitution reported.

Bickers will remain free on bond until her sentencing, which is set for July 12, the newspaper reported.

Mitchell and Richards were both charged in early 2017, and about a half dozen other people were charged as the investigation continued over the next several years. Several of them were high-ranking members of Reed’s administration.

The investigation cast a shadow over Reed’s final year in office that lingered over City Hall even after the term-limited mayor left in early 2018. But Reed was never charged and his lawyers released a statement last year saying federal prosecutors had told them he was not under investigation.

Some others ensnared in the probe pleaded guilty and were sent to prison, but Bickers’ lawyers insisted she was innocent. Two other people, another former city employee and another contractor, have pleaded not guilty and are scheduled for trial later this year.

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