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Atlanta City Hall to release contracts, records in bribery case

January 25, 2017, Atlanta, Georgia - Defendant Elvin Mitchell returns to his car after his hearing in Atlanta, Georgia, on Wednesday, January 25, 2017. (HENRY TAYLOR / HENRY.TAYLOR@AJC.COM)
January 25, 2017, Atlanta, Georgia - Defendant Elvin Mitchell returns to his car after his hearing in Atlanta, Georgia, on Wednesday, January 25, 2017. (HENRY TAYLOR / HENRY.TAYLOR@AJC.COM)

The administration of Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed said Wednesday it will release records next week pertaining to contracts at the center of a bribery scandal that has gripped City Hall.

The city has so far refused to release records requested by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Channel 2 Action News and other media citing the ongoing federal investigation into a scheme involving prominent Atlanta businessman Elvin "E.R." Mitchell Jr.

First Amendment experts, however, have said this argument for withholding and releasing records has no basis in Georgia law. Records generated as part of city business cannot be withheld because the city fell under scrutiny from federal investigators.

The reversal by the city comes two days after attorneys for the AJC and Channel 2 sent a letter to City Hall demanding release of documents by Friday.

A spokeswoman for the city later said Hampton had not reviewed the letter sent by the AJC and Channel 2 attorneys.

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In an email to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, City Attorney Cathy Hampton said the approximately 1.3 million pages of records will be released free of charge on or before Friday, Feb. 10.

“As stated previously, the City’s top priority remains assisting in the ongoing criminal investigation,” Hampton wrote. “To that end, the City maintained the confidentiality of records related to that open criminal investigation. The City is also committed to transparency as this investigation continues to evolve.

“The City just learned that the investigation has progressed to a point that certain documents may be produced without compromising the integrity of the investigation,” she said.

The records will be “subject only to redactions for privacy-related information,” Hampton said.

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Mitchell, 63, was charged last month in what prosecutors described as a more than $1 million bribery scheme that netted Mitchell millions in city contracts.

On Jan. 25, Mitchell admitted to conspiring to commit bribery in order to obtain city construction contracts, as well as conspiring to launder money during the time of the scheme. He confessed to paying bribes to an unnamed person under the belief that the funds would be paid to one or more city officials with influence over the contracting process.

Mitchell agreed to testify as part of his plea deal. He will be sentenced at a later date.

Here’s the full statement from Cathy Hampton, Atlanta’s city attorney:

As stated previously, the City’s top priority remains assisting in the ongoing criminal investigation. To that end, the City maintained the confidentiality of records related to that open criminal investigation. The City is also committed to transparency as this investigation continues to evolve. The City just learned that the investigation has progressed to a point that certain documents may be produced without compromising the integrity of the investigation. The City is now preparing to make approximately 1.3 million pages of records available free of charge, on or before Friday, February 10, 2017, subject only to redactions for privacy-related information. These records will include documents responsive to requests, as well as additional records delivered as part of the investigation.