Updated: Contractors at center of Atlanta bribery scandal sentenced to federal prison

Updated: Contractors at center of Atlanta bribery scandal sentenced to federal prison

Two contractors who have pleaded guilty to a conspiracy to pay bribes to win city of Atlanta contracts were sentenced to prison on Tuesday in federal court.  

Elvin “E.R.” Mitchell Jr., a politically connected Atlanta contractor and the federal government’s star witness in its long-running bribery investigation, was sentenced Tuesday to five years in prison for his role in the massive pay-to-play scandal.  

Mitchell was charged and pleaded guilty in January to conspiring to pay more than $1 million in bribes to an as-yet-unnamed person to help win city contracts, a scandal that shook City Hall and ultimately led to guilty pleas by another contractor and Atlanta’s former top purchasing officer. 

The scandal has led to a cloud of suspicion over City Hall about whom else might have taken cash in exchange for lucrative city business. The scandal also has become one of the biggest issues of the campaign to succeed Kasim Reed as mayor.  

In a statement ,Reed's office said the sentences handed down Tuesday serve as a warning to wrongdoers.  

"Today serves as a valuable lesson to all that no individual is above the law and compromising or interfering with the City’s procurement system will not be condoned in any way," Reed's office said. "We will not rest until this case is fully resolved and justice has been served to those involved in any wrongdoing.”  

The feds have alleged Mitchell paid a person under the belief some of the money would go to one or more person with influence over contracts.  

Mitchell agreed to testify against others in exchange for leniency in sentencing. He was sentenced to the maximum allowed under the statue for the sole count of conspiracy to commit bribery and money laundering, and ordered by U.S. District Court Judge Steve Jones to pay $1.12 million in restitution.  

Mitchell’s attorney, Craig Gillen, requested Mitchell do his time in a federal prison in Alabama, but that determination will be made by the federal government. Mitchell will report to prison sometime in the coming months.  

Prosecutors said his sentence could be reduced from the five-year sentence pending further cooperation in the federal probe. 

 “Your honor, I would like to sincerely apologize,” Mitchell told the judge. “I have been and continue to cooperate with the government.”  

A few hours later, Charles P. Richards Jr., of Tucker, received a sentence of 27 months in prison and was ordered to pay $193,000 in restitution.  

Richards’ attorney, Lynne Borsuk, said her client agreed to pay bribes with Mitchell after Mitchell came to Richards desperate for help. Both men, childhood friends, were struggling to keep their businesses afloat amid the Great Recession.  

Borsuk said Richards took part in paying bribes to keep from having to lay off employees. 

 “I lived my life trying to do the right thing,” Richards said. “This time I failed.” 

Borsuk said Richards was implicated when Mitchell wore a wire during a September 2015 meeting. 

 In both sentencings, Jones, the judge, said the men weakened the foundation of government by violating the public’s trust.  

Both men agreed to testify against others in exchange for leniency in sentencing.  

Charles P. Richards Jr. pleaded guilty in February to conspiracy to commit bribery in order to obtain City of Atlanta contracts. BRANDEN CAMP/SPECIAL The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

The feds have alleged Mitchell paid a person under the belief some of the money would go to one or more person with influence over contracts.

Mitchell agreed to testify against others in exchange for leniency in sentencing. A second contractor, Charles P. Richards Jr., a friend and partner of Mitchell’s, pleaded guilty in the scheme in February, and he is scheduled to be sentenced at 2:30 p.m.

Mitchell, who ran a business called Cascade Building Systems, won more than $7 million in emergency snow removal contracts in 2011 and 2014, and bribes he paid occurred near times when Mitchell was awarded work.

He also was a partner with Richards in an annual sidewalk construction contract that paid the men millions more.

An Atlanta Journal-Constitution reporter will be at the courthouse to cover both hearings and this story will be updated.

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