Marissa Goldberg, left, and Drew Findling, attorneys for Mitzi Bickers, speak following a pre-trial hearing on Wednesday, March 13, 2019, outside the Richard B. Russell Federal Building. Bickers faces a 12-count indictment, including allegations of bribery, money laundering and tax evasion. Bickers has pleaded not guilty and her lawyers are attempting to have four counts tossed from her indictment. J. SCOTT TRUBEY/ STRUBEY@AJC.COM
Photo: J. Scott Trubey
Photo: J. Scott Trubey

Atlanta bribery probe figure wants witness info, charges dismissed

Lawyers for Mitzi Bickers, a key figure in the Atlanta City Hall corruption investigation, on Wednesday told a judge they want information about government sources and what those witnesses were offered by prosecutors in exchange for their cooperation against the former city official.

In a hearing before U.S. Magistrate Judge Linda Walker, Bickers’ attorneys also sought dismissal of four wire fraud counts as the defense showed a bit of its hand in their effort to keep the pastor and well-connected political consultant out of prison.

VIDEO: More on Mitzi Bickers

Federal prosecutors unsealed a new charge this week against Rev. Mitzi Bickers.

Bickers served as director of human services in the administration of Kasim Reed from 2010 to early 2013 after helping Reed during his first run for mayor in 2009. She didn’t have a direct role over contracting, but prosecutors allege she wielded influence to help two contractors win millions in city business.

The federal probe so far has led to five guilty pleas and two indictments, including Bickers. An indictment was unsealed last week accusing longtime Atlanta vendor Jeff Jafari of paying bribes to the city’s former purchasing chief, who was sentenced to 27 months in prison.

Bickers has pleaded not guilty to a 12-count indictment that accuses her of accepting more than $2 million from 2010 to 2014 in exchange for steering $17 million of city work to contractors Elvin “E.R.” Mitchell Jr. and Charles P. Richards Jr., who have already pleaded guilty and are cooperating.

“Our interest right now is defending Ms. Bickers and obviously we want to know what witnesses the government may call in her case and that is our interest in getting as much information as we possibly can in defending Ms. Bickers,” attorney Marissa Goldberg said following the hearing.

The indictment doesn’t say who at City Hall allegedly approved the contracts for Mitchell and Richards, but says Bickers helped secure the contracts “through the bribery of at least one public official.”

Bickers had longstanding business ties to Mitchell and is also accused of attempting to hinder his cooperation with federal authorities.

Goldberg said the prosecution has provided some 2 million pages of documents in discovery.

Another defense motion seeks more information related to how the government came to allege Bickers, who as human services director headed up efforts for the homeless and summer lunch programs, could influence contracting decisions.

Walker gave the federal government 45 days to respond to the defense motions.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Kurt Erskine said the government has turned over audio recordings, grand jury transcripts, emails and other records as required. He declined to comment following the hearing.

Manny Arora, a criminal defense attorney not attached to the case, said Bickers’ motions were not uncommon for lawyers forced to ferret through mountains of evidence.

Arora said the defense wants to know who is helping the government, what they provided and what prosecutors offered in exchange. That information might used to impugn witness testimony at trial.

The scope of the government’s knowledge also would be useful to know to prepare a defense or if Bickers were to decide it was in her best interest to plead.

The defense would “want to know exactly what we’re defending against,” Arora said.

Asked if the government had made offers for a plea deal, Drew Findling, another lawyer for Bickers, said “the focus on us is preparing for trial.” Bickers was not in court Wednesday. No trial date has been set.

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