ATLANTA — Federal prosecutors on Wednesday announced a criminal charge against a Lithonia contractor who is a close friend and business associate to a central figure in the Atlanta City Hall bribery probe.
Charles P. Richards Jr. is accused of conspiracy to commit bribery in order to obtain city of Atlanta contracts, according to charging documents made public in U.S. District Court. From 2010 to August 2015, Richards is alleged to have paid $185,000 in bribes in the belief that some of the money would be paid to unnamed city officials, prosecutors alleged.
Richards was publicly identified last week as a potential target of the federal investigation when the city of Atlanta released subpoenas from federal prosecutors late last year requesting information about Richards and related companies.
He was arraigned Wednesday morning and received a $10,000 bond. He has not yet entered a plea.
Channel 2 investigative reporter Aaron Diamant confronted Richards after the hearing.
“If we're bribing city officials, at least that's the allegations, do you have anything to say to the taxpayers and the citizens of the City of Atlanta?" Diamant asked Richards.
"No," is all Richards would say, with his attorney saying no comment for all other questions.
Through an open records request, the AJC and Channel 2 obtained a copy of the federal subpoena served on Atlanta City Hall. It asked for a number of records regarding bids and contracts for Elvin “E.R.” Mitchell Jr. and Richards. Mitchell pleaded guilty Jan. 25 to conspiracy to pay bribes and launder money in a scheme to win Atlanta city contracts.
C.P. Richards Construction Co. used one of Mitchell's firms, Cascade Building Systems LLC, as a minority subcontractor for city work, according to an Atlanta Journal-Constitution and Channel 2 Action News analysis of city records.
"There are definitely red flags that I heard this morning," attorney Esther Panitch told Diamant.
Panitch represents the wife of Richards’ alleged co-conspirator, Mitchell.
"It sounds like he is going to be cooperating with the federal government, because he waived the indictment and there's a plea hearing scheduled in front of the same judge who took the plea from Mr. Mitchell," Panitch said.
From 2009 to 2014, the city paid C.P. Richards nearly $10 million on more than 100 invoices, according to an analysis of the city’s vendor payment data. The vendor data does not show how many jobs Cascade got as a minority subcontractor for C.P. Richards or how much Cascade was paid.
One 2013 contract awarded the partners more than $2 million for streetscape work near Greenbrier Mall, according contract documents in a City Council resolution.
The AJC and Channel 2 also reported last week Cascade was paid more than $7.3 million for emergency work during the time he was withdrawing cash for payoffs to win city contracts.
The AJC and Channel 2 found Cascade received 10 payments for emergency services from the city during a six-year period when Mitchell admitted to conspiring to pay more than $1 million in bribes to obtain city contracts.
Dates on invoices between 2011 and 2014 occur within days of withdrawals and other financial transactions that prosecutors say Mitchell performed to pay bribes and launder money, according to an analysis of the criminal charges and electronic vendor payments data.
The AJC, Channel 2 and other media outlets have made numerous requests for records that would shed more light on Mitchell’s work for the city as either a prime or a subcontractor.
Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed’s administration has cited the federal investigation to deny requests for those documents, moves that First Amendment experts say likely violate the state’s sunshine laws.
Reed said following his State of City address last week that federal prosecutors had given the city the “go-ahead” to turn over the documents, and that the city is to comply with a large release of 1.3 million pages of records on Friday.
Richards has a plea hearing scheduled for later this week.
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