An Atlanta city employee was placed on administrative leave Thursday after it was revealed in federal court that she allegedly took bribes to steer snow removal work to a contractor who was the first person charged in the sprawling corruption scandal that’s plagued City Hall for seven years.
Federal prosecutors on Thursday began opening statements in the bribery trial of Mitzi Bickers, a pastor and political operative accused of helping two contractors win millions of dollars in city business.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Jeffrey Davis alleged Bickers gave cash to Cotena P. Alexander, a former operations director for Atlanta’s public works department, to secure millions of dollars of work for Elvin “E.R.” Mitchell Jr. removing snow, debris and hauling salt in the wake of the 2014 Snowjam storm.
Davis didn’t specify how much money Alexander was allegedly given, but said she used the cash to buy money orders and pay off $30,000 in credit card debt.
Alexander has been employed by the city for 22 years, according to her biography on the city’s website. She worked in every area of transportation maintenance before she supervised the Department of Public Works Office of Transportation. She currently serves as a deputy commissioner in the Atlanta Department of Transportation. Her salary is $170,000.
A spokesman for Mayor Andre Dickens said Thursday that Alexander was placed on paid administrative leave after officials in the mayor’s office learned of the allegation against her from The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.
“While the DOJ has not shared with this Administration the names of any other employees suspected of wrongdoing, the city remains steadfast in fully cooperating with authorities during this investigation,” the city spokesman said in a statement.
A Department of Justice spokesman declined to comment on whether federal investigators told Atlanta officials about Alexander’s alleged involvement. Alexander, who has been named as a potential witness in the case, hung up on an AJC reporter who asked her to comment on the allegations Thursday.
In their opening statements Thursday, prosecutors alleged Mitchell in 2014 was not on the list of preapproved contractors for snow removal work. But he ended up getting the most work of anyone for $5.5 million during a pair of winter storms. The prosecutors allege Mitchell paid Bickers about $900,000, or about 15% of the money earned from the work, over three months.
At that time, prosecutors said Alexander was in charge of hiring contractors for snow removal.
As the AJC reported in 2017, Mitchell’s firm gouged the city for the work — sometimes charging double the hourly rate of contractors who were on the city’s preapproved list. Despite that, Mitchell’s company was one of five companies hired by the city but received 62% of the work, the AJC found.
No charges have been filed against Alexander. It is unclear if she is cooperating with the government, and if she has a deal to avoid prosecution.
Caren Morrison, a Georgia State University law professor and former federal prosecutor, said prosecutors tend to strike deals with co-conspirators that include a guilty plea in exchange for their testimony.
Mitchell and two other men are already known to have reached agreements with prosecutors to exchange their testimony for lighter sentences.
Morrison said the city should investigate Alexander’s expense reports. She also said it makes sense to put Alexander on administrative leave.
“If you get fired without even being criminally charged, and certainly not without being convicted, you would probably sue your employer for wrongful termination,” Morrison said.
Bickers faces a dozen felony counts in the investigation into former Mayor Kasim Reed’s administration.
Reed has denied any wrongdoing and his lawyers late last year said he was informed by prosecutors that he is not a target of the investigation.