ATLANTA - A judge sentenced two contractors who paid more than $1 million in bribes to more than seven combined years in prison.
Contractor E.R. Mitchell was sentenced to five years in prison and Charles Richards will face more than two years in prison.
Prison time for at least one of them could be cut.
Mitchell pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit bribery and money laundering, and Richards pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit bribery.
Both agreed to cooperate with the ongoing federal investigation.
In Mitchell's case, it's apparent his cooperation is still required.
Mitchell, once one of the best-known government contractors in the metro area, faced a sober prospect as he arrived at the courthouse.
“Do you expect you'll have to go to prison?” Channel 2 investigative reporter Richard Belcher asked Mitchell as he entered court Tuesday morning.
- Sept. 26, 2017: Former high-ranking city official 'takes full responsibility' for taking bribes, attorney says
- July 13, 2017: Investigation: Bribery figure paid $1.6 million to political consultant tied to mayor
- May 25, 2017: Feds sought financial records of former city employee in Atlanta bribery case official
- Feb. 23, 2017: Whistleblower: Feds asked about central figure in bribery case and top ATL official
- Feb. 16, 2017: 2nd businessman pleads guilty in bribery case
- Feb. 02, 2017: Wife says CEO who paid bribes won Atlanta contracts by fraud
- Jan. 26, 2017: Atlanta mayor distances himself from staffer with connection to bribery scandal
- Jan. 25, 2017: Construction CEO pleads guilty to federal corruption, bribery charges
- Jan. 19, 2017: Mayor responds to allegations of $1M bribery scandal involving city contracts
In a very brief hearing, Mitchell apologized to the court and the community and said, "I look forward to making amends."
Judge Stephen Jones gave him the maximum of five years in prison and he has to pay restitution of more than $1.1 million.
He has admitted to making illegal payoffs of more than $1 million to win city contracts. He's expected to be ordered to report to federal prison in about 45 days.
“Right now, Mr. Mitchell is looking forward to begin serving his sentence,” Mitchell’s attorney, Craig Gillen, told Belcher.
But Mitchell is also hoping his cooperation will ultimately result in a reduced sentence.
“Do you expect to see him on the stand testifying in trials?” Belcher asked Gillen.
“He will do whatever the government asks in terms of cooperation. If he has to testify, he will,” Gillen said.
Contractor Charlie Richards didn't speak to reporters as he walked in, but in the courtroom he told the judge, “I’ve lost my company, my wife and I have lost most of my life savings. I'm deeply ashamed.”
Gillen blamed Richards' co-defendant, saying the bribes were Mitchell's idea. It was his game. It was his contacts.
Federal prosecutor Jeffrey Davis called it a tragic day for Richards but added the scope of Richards’ illegal conduct is staggering.
The prosecution's argument prevailed. Richards was sentenced to 27 months in prison and ordered to pay $193,000 in restitution.
DEFENDANT COULD SEE LIGHTER SENTENCE
A rule could get prison time for Mitchell reduced. Federal prosecutors could file a Rule 35 with the judge, asking him to reduce Mitchell’s sentence based on his level of cooperation and its value.
“There are no guarantees with a Rule 35. It is solely up to the government to decide whether they’re going to file one,” Channel 2 legal analyst Esther Panitch told Channel 2 investigative reporter Aaron Diamant.
Panitch said prosecutors could ultimately choose not to file the rule if they feel the defendant's cooperation isn’t substantial or truthful.
“Then they don’t have to file anything and there’s nothing the defense can do to force the government to file a Rule 35,” Panitch said.
“Hopefully, we’ll get a Rule 35 that can reduce this down from 60 months,” Gillen said.
Late Tuesday afternoon, the U.S. attorney for Georgia’s Northern District, BJay Pak, issued a statement saying:
"The citizens of Atlanta rightfully expect that government contracts will go to the most qualified bidder and trust that the contracting process will be transparent and fair. When contractors like Mitchell and Richards pay bribes to get public work, the public’s confidence in the process is undermined and the price of that corruption is borne by the taxpayers.”
The Federal Bureau of Prisons will notify Mitchell and Richards where to surrender within the next 45 days.
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