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Former Atlanta official gets 14 years in prison for bribery and money-laundering

Former City of Atlanta Director of Human Services, Mitzi L. Bickers, has been sentenced to 14 years in prison for accepting about $3 million in bribe money to influence government contracts, money laundering, lying to the City of Atlanta to maintain her salary and cabinet-level position, and failing to disclose more than $600,000 in income on her federal tax return, federal prosecutors say.

“For years, Mitzi Bickers masterminded a sophisticated scheme to steer City of Atlanta contracts worth millions of dollars to two businessmen,” said U.S. Ryan K. Buchanan.  “By abusing her position, power, and connections, Bickers corrupted the City’s procurement practices, creating a pay-to-play environment where bribe money was rewarded over merit and quality of work.  Bickers’ substantial prison sentence serves as a blistering message to anyone tempted to sell the public’s trust for a lake home or an SUV and serves a reminder that law enforcement officers remain committed to the investigation of corrupt public officials.”

According to U.S. Attorney Buchanan, the charges, and other information presented in court: While with the City of Atlanta as its Director of Human Services and after leaving the City as a claimed “business consultant,” Bickers accepted more than $2.9 million in bribe payments directly and on behalf of other public officials to steer valuable contracts to businessmen Elvin R. Mitchell Jr. and Charles P. Richards Jr.

From February 2010 to May 2013, Bickers served as the City of Atlanta’s Director of Human Services.  Even though she held a high-level position with the city, Bickers allegedly sold sensitive, non-public information to Mitchell and Richards that was critical to their ability to obtain certain valuable contracts.

In effecting the bribery scheme, prosecutors say Bickers accepted money in two distinct ways: First, Mitchell and Richards paid Bickers “up-front” money, where Bickers arranged for Mitchell and Richards to pay her bribe money in advance of the work to secure the award of a contract. Second, Mitchell and Richards paid Bickers “kick-backs,” where Bickers instructed Mitchell and Richards to inflate the cost of their work with the City so that Mitchell and Richards could then pay Bickers a percentage of what they earned.

Between 2010 and 2013, Mitchell’s and Richards’s companies received City of Atlanta contracts worth millions of dollars for emergency snow removal, sidewalk repair and maintenance, and bridge reconstruction.

In what prosecutors call an effort to conceal her relationship with Mitchell and Richards, Bickers filed numerous false City of Atlanta Financial Disclosure forms. For example, Bickers swore under penalty of perjury that in 2011, she engaged in no financial relationships with any outside businesses and did not receive more than $5,000 in income from any outside sources. In fact, Bickers had accepted more than $600,000 in bribe money from Mitchell and Richards during that period.

In 2011, Bickers used most of this bribe money to purchase a $775,000 lakefront home in Jonesboro, Georgia. In that same year, prosecutors say Bickers lied on her federal income tax return by claiming that she earned only $57,896, resulting in a tax refund of $3,924. In fact, in 2011, Bickers had accepted over $600,000 in bribe payments and owed the IRS more than $200,000 in taxes.

In 2013, the media exposed Bickers’s financial ties to the political consulting firm Pirouette Companies, which was incorporated by Bickers’s girlfriend but operated by Bickers. Shortly thereafter, Bickers resigned her position with the City of Atlanta.

After leaving the City of Atlanta, Bickers continued to receive millions of dollars in bribes from Mitchell and Richards to obtain additional City of Atlanta contracts. Bickers spent the proceeds of the bribery scheme on luxury merchandise and travel, four Yamaha jet skis, and a GMC Acadia Denali.

Prosecutors say between 2010 and 2014, Bickers accepted more than $2.9 million in bribe money from Mitchell and Richards to secure several lucrative City of Atlanta contracts. In this same period, the City of Atlanta paid Mitchell’s and Richards’s businesses at least $15 million for these government contracts.

On October 22, 2018, a Federal grand jury returned a 12-count Superseding Indictment charging Mitzi Bickers with conspiratorial and substantive bribery, wire fraud, money laundering, obstruction of justice, and tax fraud offenses.

On March 23, 2022, after an approximately two-week trial, a jury convicted Bickers of nine of the 12 counts, including conspiracy to commit bribery, wire fraud, money laundering, and filing a false tax return. The jury acquitted Bickers on two counts of bribery and one count of obstruction.

“High ranking City officials hold positions of power and trust not only in their official capacity but also in the eyes of the public. That trust is broken when such officials abuse their power and commit crimes,” said James E. Dorsey, IRS-Criminal Investigation Special Agent in Charge. “Mitzi Bickers failed to uphold the trust and duty bestowed to her by the taxpayers of the City of Atlanta, to serve the public’s interest and not her own. Bickers chose a lakefront home over the best interest of the people of Atlanta.”

U.S. District Judge Steve C. Jones sentenced Mitzi L. Bickers, 57, of Atlanta, Georgia, to 14 years in prison, three years of supervised release, and ordered her to pay $2,955,106 in restitution to the City of Atlanta.  Bickers also forfeited to the government her lake home, a GMC Acadia Denali, and four Yamaha jet skis because Bickers purchased these items with the proceeds from the bribery conspiracy.

  • Elvin R. Mitchell Jr., 68, of Atlanta, Georgia, pleaded guilty to conspiratorial bribery and money laundering and was ultimately sentenced to four years in prison.
  • Charles P. Richards Jr., 70, Tucker, Georgia, pleaded guilty to conspiratorial bribery and was ultimately sentenced to one year, eight months in prison.

The Federal Bureau of Investigation and Internal Revenue Service Criminal Investigation investigated the case.

Assistant U.S. Attorneys Jeffrey W. Davis, Nathan P. Kitchens, Tiffany R. Dillingham, and Kelly Connors prosecuted the case. The case was previously prosecuted by former U.S. Attorney Kurt R. Erskine.