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

April 9, 2020 Atlanta: Atlanta City Hall is keeping its eye on the federal bribery case that has already resulted in administrative leave for two current city employees. Curtis Compton ccompton@ajc.com

Combined ShapeCaption
April 9, 2020 Atlanta: Atlanta City Hall is keeping its eye on the federal bribery case that has already resulted in administrative leave for two current city employees. Curtis Compton ccompton@ajc.com

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.

Combined ShapeCaption
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

Combined ShapeCaption
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

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.

ExploreStar witness in Bickers trial is grilled on cross examination about his role with the FBI

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.

Combined ShapeCaption
Suspended city employee suspected of steering millions in contracts is refusing to testify at trial

Suspended city employee suspected of steering millions in contracts is refusing to testify at trial

Combined ShapeCaption
Suspended city employee suspected of steering millions in contracts is refusing to testify at trial

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.

ExploreBickers tried to influence contracts in Miss., feds allege

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.”

Combined ShapeCaption
October 10, 2017 Atlanta - Elvin “E.R.” Mitchell Jr. walks to the federal court Tuesday morning, October 10, 2017. Contractors Elvin “E.R.” Mitchell Jr. and Charles P. Richards Jr. are scheduled to be sentenced Tuesday in federal court for their roles in the Atlanta City Hall bribery scheme. HYOSUB SHIN / HSHIN@AJC.COM

October 10, 2017 Atlanta - Elvin “E.R.” Mitchell Jr. walks to the federal court Tuesday morning, October 10, 2017. Contractors Elvin “E.R.” Mitchell Jr. and Charles P. Richards Jr. are scheduled to be sentenced Tuesday in federal court for their roles in the Atlanta City Hall bribery scheme. HYOSUB SHIN / HSHIN@AJC.COM

Combined ShapeCaption
October 10, 2017 Atlanta - Elvin “E.R.” Mitchell Jr. walks to the federal court Tuesday morning, October 10, 2017. Contractors Elvin “E.R.” Mitchell Jr. and Charles P. Richards Jr. are scheduled to be sentenced Tuesday in federal court for their roles in the Atlanta City Hall bribery scheme. HYOSUB SHIN / HSHIN@AJC.COM

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.”