The investigation started in 2015.

U.S. Attorney suggests cooperation lacking in Atlanta City Hall probe

U.S. Attorney Byung J. “BJay” Pak said Monday his office won’t “take shortcuts” in its corruption investigation of Atlanta City Hall, and suggested Keisha Lance Bottoms’ administration has provided less than full cooperation in a probe that pre-dates her term as mayor.

The federal investigation, which dates to mid-2015 during the tenure of former Mayor Kasim Reed, remains a cloud over City Hall. A grand jury issued several subpoenas last year, Bottoms’ first in office. They demanded information about credit card spending by Reed and his office, as well as for records related to city travel.

Some of the subpoenas followed reports by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution and Channel 2 Action News about hundreds of thousands of dollars in questionable purchases on city credit cards when Reed was mayor.

Pak’s comments to reporters followed a speech to the Rotary Club of Atlanta where he outlined top priorities, including combating the opioid crisis, drug trafficking, gangs and cybercrime.

2/4/19 - Atlanta - U.S. Attorney Byung J. “BJay” Pak speaks to the Rotary Club of Atlanta on Monday, February 4. This is Pak’s first address to the civic group. EMILY HANEY / emily.haney@ajc.com
Photo: The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Pak previously credited Bottoms’ administration for being more open than that of her predecessor. On Monday, he would not describe how the city had come up short of prosecutors’ expectations.

Pak said “rough spots” are not uncommon for a new administration fielding a complex federal inquiry.

“But we want to continue the dialogue and making sure that we’re getting all the information we need,” Pak said. “We want to get this done as quickly as they do — the new administration does — but we’re not going to take shortcuts. We’re going to do everything that we can. We look forward to talking to them about that.”

Asked again if the city has provided full cooperation, Pak said: “We’re getting cooperation. I’ll leave it at that.”

In a statement, the mayor’s office said “This Administration has and will continue to fully cooperate with the authorities in order to assist bringing the matter to a swift and fair conclusion.”

The federal investigation became public in January 2017 when contractor Elvin R. “E.R.” Mitchell Jr. was charged and pleaded guilty to paying more than $1 million in bribes to win city business. Prosecutors later revealed Mitchell started cooperating in July 2015.

Prosecutors have probed sidewalk and emergency snow removal contracts and examined purchasing in several city departments, including the airport and watershed management.

Elvin “E.R.” Mitchell Jr., right, stands with his attorney, Craig Gillen, after Mitchell was sentenced in October 2017 to five years in prison as part of the federal investigation of Atlanta City Hall. HYOSUB SHIN / HSHIN@AJC.COM
Photo: The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Mitchell and four other people so far have pleaded guilty, including two former senior members of the Reed administration. A sixth person, the Rev. Mitzi Bickers, a political consultant who helped Reed win his first run for mayor in 2009 and later served in his administration, has been indicted on charges including bribery and tax evasion.

Bickers has pleaded not guilty and could face trial this year.

Pak would not provide a timeline for when the investigation will be concluded, nor would he say whether other city officials or city vendors might be charged.

“These are serious allegations and whenever we receive a credible lead, we’re going to follow it,” Pak said.

He also renewed his call for witnesses to come forward and cut a deal.

“That clock hasn’t stopped, but the longer you wait the best deals are going to get a little less and less good,” he said.

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