First trial in Atlanta City Hall investigation delayed again

Mitzi Bickers, who served as Mayor Kasim Reed’s director of human services from 2010 to 2013, is seen here with attorney Drew Findling. Bickers faces multiple charges related to alleged bribery schemes in both Atlanta and Jackson, Mississippi. BOB ANDRES /BANDRES@AJC.COM
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Mitzi Bickers, who served as Mayor Kasim Reed’s director of human services from 2010 to 2013, is seen here with attorney Drew Findling. Bickers faces multiple charges related to alleged bribery schemes in both Atlanta and Jackson, Mississippi. BOB ANDRES /BANDRES@AJC.COM

Federal judge cites COVID-19 trends in delay of high-profile trial

A federal court judge has postponed the long-delayed first trial in the Atlanta City Hall corruption investigation by nearly two months citing concerns about the latest coronavirus surge.

Mitzi Bickers, a political operative, religious leader and former city department head, had been scheduled to stand trial starting Jan. 18. Court records show that on Tuesday, U.S. District Court Judge Steve Jones ordered a continuance until March 9.

In a sprawling indictment, Bickers is accused of steering pay-to-play contracting schemes in Atlanta and in Jackson, Mississippi. Bickers, who has pleaded not guilty, faces a dozen charges including conspiracy to commit bribery, money laundering, filing false tax returns and witness tampering.

The pandemic has disrupted trials across local, state and federal courts for nearly two years. At one point, the Bickers trial was slated for April 2020. But the federal courts postponed trials repeatedly out of public health concerns.

In this instance, Jones’ order appears to apply only to the Bickers case.

Bickers served as a political consultant to Kasim Reed in his first run for mayor in 2009 and parlayed that work into a job in Reed’s administration as director of human services from 2010 to 2013.

In Atlanta, federal prosecutors allege Bickers positioned herself to influence city officials to steer contracts to a pair of construction company CEOs, even though she had no direct role in procurement. The bid steering continued even after she left her city job, according to the indictment.

Reed has not been accused of any wrongdoing and he has long denied any involvement.

The CEOs, Elvin R. “E.R.” Mitchell Jr. and Charles P. Richards Jr., pleaded guilty in 2017 to conspiring to pay $2 million bribes to Bickers, who allegedly helped the contractors win some $17 million in snow removal and sidewalk contracts. The men, who have already served their prison sentences, have agreed to testify for the prosecution.

After leaving City Hall, Bickers took a job as a chaplain under Clayton County Sheriff Victor Hill, who is currently suspended from his post and under federal indictment in an unrelated matter. Bickers holds the title of bishop at the small but politically influential Emmanuel Baptist Church in southeast Atlanta.

The City Hall probe has been ongoing at least since 2015 and has focused on the former Reed administration. Reed left office at the beginning of 2018. He sought a third term in office in last year’s election but failed to make the runoff.

Seven people so far have pleaded guilty to charges connected to the federal probe. Four others have been indicted, including two other former city department heads.

Court filings hint at potentially salacious evidence against Bickers, including allegations she used exotic dancers to entertain Jackson officials in an unsuccessful effort to steer contracts to her and her partners.

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