Atlanta investigating two employees over alleged ties to bribery case

March 15, 2022 Atlanta: Atlanta Mayor Andre Dickens at a press conference at Atlanta Tuesday, March 15, 2022. (John Spink / John.Spink@ajc.com)

Credit: JOHN SPINK / AJC

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March 15, 2022 Atlanta: Atlanta Mayor Andre Dickens at a press conference at Atlanta Tuesday, March 15, 2022. (John Spink / John.Spink@ajc.com)

Credit: JOHN SPINK / AJC

Cotena Alexander and Rita Braswell are on paid administrative leave after names surface in the Bickers trial

The city of Atlanta has launched an internal investigation into two employees whose names surfaced this month in the bribery trial of former political operative and city employee Mitzi Bickers.

Cotena P. Alexander, deputy commissioner in the city’s Department of Transportation, was mentioned by federal prosecutors as a person who accepted money in exchange for steering contracts to contractor Elvin “E.R.” Mitchell, Jr., the government’s star witness against Bickers — who was convicted on nine of 12 counts Wednesday. And Rita Braswell, an administrative program manager, was name-checked in Mitchell’s testimony as a conspirator in the bribery scheme.

ExploreJury finds Mitzi Bickers guilty in Atlanta corruption case

Both Alexander and Braswell were placed on paid administrative leave after being mentioned in the trial.

A March 18 letter obtained by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution shows the city’s public works commissioner placing Braswell on administrative leave “to allow the department time to complete an internal investigation.” The letter sets out several conditions of her leave, including: remaining available to city officials during normal work hours, turning in all city-issued equipment, having no contact with city employees and not entering city buildings.

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Rita Braswell, the administrative program manager in the Atlanta department of public works. Elvin “E.R.” Mitchell testified that he gave bribery money to Mitzi Bickers, who then gave some of those funds Braswell to steer work to Mitchell's company. Braswell, who testified in the case in March, was placed on administrative leave. (City of Atlanta flyer)

Credit: City of Atlanta

Rita Braswell, the administrative program manager in the Atlanta department of public works. Elvin “E.R.” Mitchell testified that he gave bribery money to Mitzi Bickers, who then gave some of those funds Braswell to steer work to Mitchell's company. Braswell, who testified in the case in March, was placed on administrative leave. (City of Atlanta flyer)

Credit: City of Atlanta

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Rita Braswell, the administrative program manager in the Atlanta department of public works. Elvin “E.R.” Mitchell testified that he gave bribery money to Mitzi Bickers, who then gave some of those funds Braswell to steer work to Mitchell's company. Braswell, who testified in the case in March, was placed on administrative leave. (City of Atlanta flyer)

Credit: City of Atlanta

Credit: City of Atlanta

Joyce Kitchens, an employment lawyer who advises government and private entities, said the city can keep Alexander and Braswell on leave for as long as it takes to complete the internal probe. Kitchens said it’s not clear whether the guilty verdict will play a role in the city’s investigation, but she said: “The existence of bribery has been established. The only (question) left is can they establish that Alexander and Braswell were involved.”

Kitchens said the authorities should review Alexander and Braswell’s emails and financial records. She also said any infractions or questions about their role on contracts will be scrutinized harder than usual due to the allegations.

“We’re talking about misuse of a government position for personal gain,” Kitchens said. “That’s really heavy grits.”

Charles R. Bridgers, a managing member of the DeLong-Caldwell-Bridgers-Fitzpatrick & Benjamin law firm, said the city could potentially relocate, demote, or fire the women depending on the city’s due process requirements.

“The city can make its own judgement about whether or not these people should still be trusted in their positions,” he said.

Bridgers added that both women should be concerned if they accepted money that wasn’t reported on their taxes, because that could lead to federal charges.

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Cotena Alexander (City Of Atlanta)

Credit: City of Atlanta

Cotena Alexander (City Of Atlanta)

Credit: City of Atlanta

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Cotena Alexander (City Of Atlanta)

Credit: City of Atlanta

Credit: City of Atlanta

Prosecutors allege Alexander used bribes to buy personal items and pay off at least $30,000 in debt. Mitchell testified that Bickers became agitated because another city employee was not sharing money with “our people,” which allegedly included Braswell.

Braswell testified at the trial and admitted no wrongdoing.

Mayor Andre Dickens said the city is cooperating with the Justice Department while reviewing the employment history. A city spokesman declined to comment when asked what aspects of their jobs the city is investigating.

”I’m gonna run a completely ethical and above-board and transparent government,” Dickens said. “Once I know for sure, we’ll be able to make a move one way or another. But right now, we just put them on administrative leave because it’s best to be safe.”

ExploreSecond Atlanta employee on paid leave over alleged ties to bribery trial

Prosecutors alleged Bickers gave bribe money to Alexander — the public works operations director at the time — to secure 2014 Snowjam storm relief for contractor Elvin “E.R.” Mitchell Jr.

Alexander has worked for Atlanta for 22 years, according to her biography on the city’s website. Her salary is $170,000. Braswell joined the city in 2005, according to her LinkedIn profile. She’s been the city’s administrative program manager in public works since July 2011. Her salary is $141,172.

A Dickens spokesman said the city was never told about any employee suspected of wrongdoing in the years-long federal corruption investigation, until Alexander and Braswell were named in the Bickers trial.

“That’s a shame,” said Amanda Farahany, a managing partner of Barrett & Farahany who specializes in employment law.

“The federal government should be sharing that information so that we can remedy it before it becomes an even greater problem,” she said.