ATLANTA — Jurors have found a former Atlanta city employee guilty of nine federal bribery charges.
Mitzi Bickers was accused of accepting bribes in exchange for steering nearly $20 million in city contracts to local businessmen.
Bickers, a one-time confidante of former Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed, played a key role in his 2009 election and later headed his Office of Human Services for a little more than three years.
Channel 2 investigative reporter Richard Belcher was inside the courtroom Wednesday when the verdict was read.
The jury deliberated seven hours before convicting Bickers of most of the charges related to bribes and city contracts.
This is the first case to go before a jury in the now nearly decadelong corruption investigation of Atlanta city government.
Tonya Dale of Alpharetta was a juror on the case.
“I believe, and I think all of us believed, that the paper trail by itself really spoke for itself. You know, you got money going out and coming in simultaneous with these payments. It just was, it was overwhelming evidence,” Dale said.
Bickers was found guilty of one count of conspiracy to commit bribery, three counts of money laundering, four counts of wire fraud, and one count of tax evasion.
She was acquitted on bribery allegations related to some activities in Jackson, Mississippi, and bribery-related allegations concerning millions of dollars in contracts in Atlanta after she left her position with the city in 2013.
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She was also acquitted of tampering with a witness.
Dale explained what the jury saw as a weakness with one of the Atlanta bribery allegations.
“We just could not find any ironclad proof other than one questionable source that stated that she had told him she was paying city employees,” Dale said.
That was a clear reference to star prosecution witness E.R. Mitchell, who has already pleaded guilty to bribery and going to prison.
That was the central conflict of the trial.
Federal prosecutors wanted the jury to see Bickers as a clever political operative who targeted businessmen in desperate straits and used her political connections to manipulate them into paying her nearly $2 million in bribes.
In exchange, prosecutors contended she got them nearly $20 million in city contracts.
Bickers’ defense wanted the focus on Mitchell, a contractor whose troubles with law-enforcement date back to 2006, when he avoided prosecution for overbilling a local school system in exchange for becoming an FBI informant.
The defense argued — unsuccessfully — that Mitchell, not Bickers, was the manipulator.
Regardless of the jury’s verdict on Bickers, there’s no dispute that Atlanta taxpayers were stuck with far higher bills from Mitchell and his admitted co-conspirator, C.P. Richards.
U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Georgia Kurt Erskine released a statement Wednesday, saying:
“Good government necessarily depends on government employees serving the interests of the public first. Government contracts should always go to the most qualified bidder through a contracting process that is both fair and transparent.
“Today a federal jury found that Mitzi Bickers conspired to use her influence as a high-ranking City of Atlanta official to steer lucrative city contracts to those willing to pay bribes. The illicit arrangement netted millions of dollars for Bickers and the city contractors willing to pay to play.
“We are thankful for the jury’s service on this case. We are also grateful for the dedication of the FBI and IRS agents who worked tirelessly to investigate this case as well as the prosecutors and staff in the U.S. Attorney’s Office who worked to bring the defendant to justice.”
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