Atlanta bribery scandal leads to more checks on emergency contracts

Source: Leon Stafford, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, March 8, 2017

In the wake of the ongoing City Hall bribery probe and scandal and revelations that “pay-to-play” cost Atlanta millions after the 2014 ice storm, the Atlanta City Council is putting in new controls to hold those responsible for issuing emergency contracts accountable. Atlanta department heads who sign off on contracts costing more than $100,000 or 20 percent above market rates during emergencies will now have to explain the spending to council, including why a particular contractor was chosen and any connections the contractor have to City Hall officials. The moves by the council come two weeks after The Atlanta Journal-Constitution and Channel 2 Action News reported that a contractor at the center of the City Hall bribery investigation made millions on emergency contracts during 2011 and 2014 winter storms. … The new rules — adopted earlier this week — are part of numerous pieces of legislation Council has introduced to bring more transparency to City Hall since the federal probe was revealed in late January. …

Unease Spreads in Atlanta as a City Contracting Scandal Brews
Source: Richard Fausett, The New York Times, February 21, 2017

The brick, adorned with a threatening message, crashed through the window of a prominent contractor’s dining room here in September 2015, apparently sometime between dusk and dawn. For some time, news of the incident failed to reverberate much beyond the home itself. The same went for the dead rodents that had been simultaneously placed on the doorstep of the contractor, Elvin R. Mitchell Jr., and the message: “ER, keep your mouth shut!!! Shut up.” … But in recent weeks, the brick, the rodents and the threat have become troubling symbols of a widening federal bribery and corruption investigation revolving around the granting of city contracts. The inquiry has already resulted in Mr. Mitchell and a second contractor pleading guilty to federal bribery charges, and it is spreading unease through the civic culture of Atlanta. Municipal contracting here has served a historically important role in the effort to spread wealth to minority businesses, but it has also, at times, been a source of explosive scandal. None of the evidence has implicated the city’s term-limited Democratic mayor, Kasim Reed, one of the South’s most prominent African-American politicians. But the situation has prompted Mr. Reed to defend his legacy, and to make a forceful, and disarmingly personal, proclamation of innocence.

… In January, Mr. Mitchell, 63, the owner of several Atlanta-area construction companies, was arraigned on conspiratorial bribery and money laundering charges of paying more than $1 million to win city contracts. As part of a guilty plea, Mr. Mitchell agreed to cooperate with federal investigators. On Feb. 8, the second contractor, Charles P. Richards Jr., 64, was arraigned on charges of paying $185,000 in bribes. The authorities said Mr. Richards conspired with Mr. Mitchell in the pay-to-play scheme from 2010 to August 2015. Last week, Mr. Richards also pleaded guilty in federal court and is cooperating with investigators. In both cases, the authorities said, the men gave money to an unidentified individual on the belief that it would get them city contracts. City contracting here has long been both a source of civic pride and lingering suspicion. … But high-profile contracting scandals have also resulted in prison terms for several Atlanta politicians and business executives. … It is unclear where the evidence will lead, but court documents suggest that investigators have been paying attention to a woman named Mitzi Bickers, a pastor, political consultant and former president of the Atlanta school board. … A subpoena that was discovered among the 406 boxes of City Hall documents showed that federal officials have asked the city to turn over all correspondence to and from Ms. Bickers. Ms. Bickers has not been charged with any crime. … At his news conference, Mr. Reed said he expects wrongdoers to be prosecuted to the full extent of the law. …