ATLANTA — Several former staffers who worked under former Kasim Reed have faced charges in a federal corruption probe. The trial for one of the most prominent figures, Mitzi Bickers, got underway Thursday.
More than half a dozen city officials and contractors have already pleaded guilty and gone to prison, but political consultant and Reed confidant Mitzi Bickers is the first person to take her case to a jury.
Prosecutors say she accepted millions of dollars in bribes and steered nearly $20 million in city contracts to two local business owners.
Her lawyers contend she was targeted by a swindler and hustler.
Bickers, who helped Reed get elected in 2009 and headed his office of human services for three years after, arrived for her trial nearly four years after she was indicted.
She faces 12 counts including bribery and money laundering. Her lead lawyer, Drew Findling, says the defense is ready.
“We’re just looking forward to this today and to this beginning. We’ve been waiting for this and been waiting on this opportunity to show that Mitzi Bickers is innocent of all these charges. Thank you,” Findling said.
In court, lead prosecutor Jeffrey Davis told the jury in his opening statement, “this is a case about money, and this is the case about manipulation. While in office, she (Bickers) accepted millions in bribes and paid millions to city officials.”
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Prosecutors say the bribes came from contractors including E.R. Mitchell, who was the first to plead guilty five years ago and has already finished his prison sentence.
Among the contracts that prosecutors contend Bickers steered to Mitchell and fellow contractor Charles Richards, were for snow clearing after winter storms in Atlanta in 2014.
Jurors are expected to hear testimony that Mitchell made more than $5 million in a matter of weeks doing snow clearing work that should’ve gone to other contractors.
But in her opening statement, defense attorney Marissa Goldberg told the jury the federal government put blinders on when it came to investigating Bickers.
Goldberg signaled the defense strategy of attacking Mitchell.
“They bet all their money on E.R. Mitchell. He is a hustler and a swindler. Nothing but lies, deceit and manipulation,” Goldberg said.
At midafternoon, prosecutors called on their first major witness: Charlie Richards, E.R. Mitchell’s admitted co-conspirator.
Richards testified he paid bribes from 2009 to 2015 but didn’t know the money was going to Bickers until 2011.
Richards said Mitchell told him at one point, “If I gave him some marketing money he could get us some work.”
“What is marketing money?” asked the prosecutor.
“Bribes,” responded Richards.
Prosecutors answered a lingering question about their investigation: who was Bicker’s alleged fixer inside city government who steered all of the contracts?
Prosecutors announced Thursday it was Katina Alexander.
In a statement from Mayor Dicken’s office late Thursday, the city said it has been cooperating fully with the federal government and this is the first time they have heard that name involved in any of this.
Alexander is now on administrative leave.
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