Contractor in Atlanta bribery case has sentence reduced

A judge agreed with federal prosecutors’ request to reduce the sentence of Charles P. Richards Jr., a contractor who pleaded guilty to paying bribes to win city of Atlanta contracts. Richards was sentenced in 2017 to 27 months in prison. He is scheduled to be released from an Atlanta halfway house next month. BRANDEN CAMP/SPECIAL

A contractor and key witness in the Atlanta City Hall corruption investigation will serve the remainder of his federal sentence in a transitional program after a judge granted a prosecution request to reduce his prison time, citing the contractor’s ongoing cooperation.

U.S. District Court Judge Steve Jones in February granted a motion by the U.S. Attorney’s Office to reduce the sentence of Charles P. Richards Jr. by a quarter, from 27 months to 20 months.

Bureau of Prisons records show Richards, who had been in a federal prison in Florida, is assigned to a re-entry program and will complete his sentence next month.

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Contractor E.R. Mitchell was sentenced to five years in prison and Charles Richards will face more than two years in prison.

The federal investigation so far has led to five guilty pleas, including Richards, city purchasing director, Adam Smith, and Katrina Taylor-Parks, the deputy chief of staff to former Mayor Kasim Reed. Two other individuals are under indictment.

Investigators have probed sidewalk and snow removal contracts and examined purchasing in several city departments, including Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport and watershed management.

A federal grand jury also has issued subpoenas related to travel and the use of city credit cards by Reed and members of his administration. Reed and others have repeatedly denied any wrongdoing.

Richards pleaded guilty in February 2017 to conspiring with another contractor, Elvin R. "E.R." Mitchell Jr., to pay bribes to win city contracts.

Richards and Mitchell, who also pleaded guilty and is serving time in federal prison, allegedly paid more than $2 million combined to Mitzi Bickers, a pastor, political consultant and former city official.

Prosecutors allege Bickers used her influence — including the alleged bribery of at least one city official — to help steer contracts to Richards and Mitchell.

Bickers has pleaded not guilty. A message left for Bickers’ attorneys was not immediately returned on Monday.

“The United States and Richards both agree that a 7-month reduction sufficiently rewards Richards for his cooperation and his continuing obligation to cooperate in this and other cases — including testifying,” the prosecutors’ motion states.

The motion specifically mentions Richards’ assistance in linking Mitchell and Bickers, but it’s unclear whether Richards provided information implicating others.

A spokesman for U.S. Attorney Byung J. “BJay” Pak declined comment.

Lynne Borsuk, who represents Richards, said her client has “acknowledged his wrongful conduct, he has gone to prison and been punished.”

“He agreed early on to cooperate with the government and he has lived up to that agreement with the government and continues to this day to assist them where needed,” she said.

Bret Williams, a former federal prosecutor who is now a criminal defense attorney, said prosecutors must have valued Richards’ information.

“I don’t know if generous is the right word for it, but it’s substantial,” Williams said.

Each of the five defendants who pleaded guilty in the federal corruption probe have received leniency in exchange for their cooperation. Smith received a 40 percent reduction at sentencing, for instance, but Richards is the first defendant in the probe to have had his sentence further reduced while serving time.

Richards was the second person to plead guilty in the investigation, which dates to at least mid-2015, and will be the first to complete his sentence. It’s unclear when the investigation might conclude.

Richards admitted to paying at least $185,000 to win contracts, including millions in sidewalk repair work.

Separately, Taylor-Parks, the former deputy chief of staff to Reed, has been instructed to report to a federal prison in Alabama later this month.

Taylor-Parks pleaded guilty in August to conspiracy to commit bribery. She was later sentenced to 21 months in prison. At sentencing, prosecutors revealed she accepted about $15,000 in gifts and bribes, including a Louis Vuitton purse, in exchange for helping a vendor.

Our Reporting

An AJC investigation in February 2017 found Charles P. Richards Jr.’s company received at least $10.8 million in contract awards from 2010 to 2015 during the time he admitted to paying bribes in the City Hall cash-for-contracts scheme. Richards is one of five individuals so far who have pleaded guilty in connection with the federal investigation. Two others are under indictment.

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