ATLANTA (AP) — A jury on Wednesday found a political operative and former Atlanta city employee guilty on charges of money laundering, wire fraud and conspiracy to commit bribes resulting from a lengthy federal investigation into corruption at City Hall.
Mitzi Bickers was the first person to stand trial for the corruption investigation during the administration of former Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed. A jury of six men and six women found her guilty on nine of the twelve counts, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported.
Bickers, who helped Reed win the election and later worked as a director of social services, was accused of using her influence to funnel business to municipal contractors Elvin “ER” Mitchell Jr. and Charles P. Richards Jr. Prosecutors said she directed about $17 million. in the city work to the two men and their businesses in exchange for approximately $2 million in bribes.
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Both men pleaded guilty in 2017 to conspiracy to pay bribes, were sentenced to prison and testified for the government against Bickers.
“Good government necessarily depends on government employees serving the public interest first,” U.S. Attorney Kurt Erskine said in a statement after the verdict. .”
During the trial, prosecutors showed the jury bank accounts, deposits, withdrawals and wire transfers linking Bickers to Mitchell and Richards, the newspaper reported. She allegedly used the bribes for a lakeside home, a luxury SUV, jet skis and expensive trips.
Juror Tonya Dale told reporters after the trial that prosecutors presented overwhelming evidence of a money trail.
“We felt like in our deliberations, it was easy to prove that she was taking bribes,” Dale said.
Jurors found Bickers not guilty on one count of conspiracy to commit bribes related to alleged actions after she quit working for the city, one count of bribery stemming from unsuccessful efforts to secure contracts in Jackson, Mississippi, and one count of witness tampering, the newspaper reports.
Defense attorney Drew Findling said Bickers will appeal.
He and his co-lawyer, Marissa Goldberg, had portrayed Mitchell as a liar who tried to blame others after federal agents approached him.
Findling said the trial was “haunted” by a city official who did not testify but whom Mitchell and prosecutors said Bickers bribed.
“He’s a very important person who was mentioned in the opening statements and I’ll do that person the respect not to mention his name,” Findling said. “And we didn’t have the benefit of cross-examining that person. It created a lot of difficulties.”
He said the fact that this woman was included in evidence but did not testify will be part of Bickers’ appeal.
This person and another current city employee were placed on paid administrative leave this month after their names were mentioned at the trial, the Newspaper-Constitution reported.
Bickers will remain free on bail until his sentencing, which is set for July 12, the newspaper reported.
Both Mitchell and Richards were charged in early 2017, and about half a dozen others were charged as the investigation continued over the following years. Several of them were high-ranking members of Reed’s administration.
The inquest cast a shadow over Reed’s final year in office which lingered on City Hall even after the term-limited mayor left office in early 2018. But Reed was never charged and his attorneys released a statement last year saying federal prosecutors told them he was not under investigation.
Others caught up in the investigation pleaded guilty and were sent to jail, but Bickers’ lawyers insisted she was innocent. Two other people, another former city employee and another contractor, have pleaded not guilty and are due to stand trial later this year.
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