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

Credit: Curtis Compton

Credit: Curtis Compton

Another Atlanta city employee has been placed on paid administrative leave after it was revealed in federal court that she allegedly conspired in a bid steering bribery scandal.

Rita Braswell, the city’s administrative program manager in Public Works, was mentioned last week in the trial of Mitzi Bickers, an Atlanta pastor and political operative who is accused of accepting bribes to help provide millions of dollars in city business to contractors Elvin “E.R.” Mitchell Jr. and Charles P. Richards Jr.

Mitchell is the prosecutors’ star witness against Bickers. In court last week, he testified that Bickers was agitated one day and allegedly said that Katrina Taylor Parks, the former deputy chief of staff for ex-Mayor Kasim Reed, was refusing to share the bribe money with “our people.”

Mitchell then identified “our people” as Braswell and Cotena P. Alexander, the city’s deputy commissioner of transportation infrastructure management, who has also been placed on paid administrative leave after earlier testimony linked her to the bribery scheme.

Taylor-Parks was sentenced to 21 months in prison in 2019, after pleading guilty to conspiracy to commit bribery. She admitted to accepting gifts and bribes from a city vendors not involved in the Bickers case.

Braswell testified in the case last week, but admitted to no wrongdoing.

Credit: City of Atlanta

Credit: City of Atlanta

Braswell has worked for the city since 2005, according to her LinkedIn profile. She’s held her position in the public works department since July 2011. She did not respond to a call and voicemail left for a number listed for her name.

The city placed Alexander on leave more than a week ago, after Assistant U.S. Attorney Jeffrey Davis alleged Bickers gave cash to Alexander to secure millions of dollars of work for Mitchell removing snow, debris and hauling salt in the wake of the 2014 Snowjam storm. Prosecutors allege Alexander bought personal items and paid off at least $30,000 in debt with the payments.

The mayor’s office previously told the AJC that federal authorities have never given city officials the names of any employees tied to the case. It appears that neither Alexander nor Braswell have been charged in the investigation.

Defense attorneys for Bickers said last week that they subpoenaed Alexander, and that she was cooperating until the lawyers were told she planned to take the Fifth — or exercise her right under the Fifth Amendment to the Constitution against self-incrimination. The attorneys sought a mistrial due to Alexander’s decision, but U.S. District Court Judge Steve C. Jones rejected their request.

Mitchell said some city leaders began to ask questions about costs associated with the contracts steered his way. For instance, former Atlanta Commissioner for Public Works Richard Mendoza and others zeroed in on the higher hourly rates he charged compared to competitors for snow removal at Georgia Tech in the wake of the January 2011 storm.

Despite the concerns, Mitchell got the contract and charged the city around $1.2 million for the work. Bickers allegedly received $190,000 as a kickback from the deal.

When asked how Bickers planned to spend the money, Mitchell alleged: “Any monies that I paid (Bickers) would be spread around by other city officials.”

Mitchell told the court that after Bickers left City Hall in 2013, he more openly forwarded emails, phone messages or other correspondence with city officials such as Alexander.

When the National Weather Service forecast the January 2014 storm that ultimately crippled Atlanta for days, Mitchell accused Bickers of contacting him to repeat their earlier efforts.

Bickers allegedly told him: “I believe we can get some of this work, just like last time.”