Ex-Atlanta Mayor Reed’s aide collapses in court during sentencing

Katrina Taylor-Parks was accustomed to standing before the Atlanta City Council and whipping votes to back former Mayor Kasim Reed’s policies.

Monday, however, found her standing before U.S. District Court Judge Steve Jones for sentencing after admitting in August to taking bribes from a city vendor. As Jones sided with prosecutors and ordered Taylor-Parks to serve 21 months in federal prison, to spend three years on supervised release and to pay about $15,000 in restitution, Taylor-Parks let out a gasp.

Her knees buckled and the 49-year-old former deputy chief of staff to Reed collapsed on the courtroom floor before a gallery of stunned supporters. The judge ordered the courtroom cleared and paramedics soon rushed inside the Richard B. Russell Federal Building to Jones’ 19th floor courtroom and transported Taylor-Parks to the hospital.

Taylor-Parks’ sentencing will be delayed to another date, but she will become the fifth person so far to be sent to prison as part of the federal investigation into City Hall, which has combed through mundane contracts such as snow removal and sidewalk construction to major awards at the world’s busiest airport.

Katrina Taylor-Parks, the deputy chief of staff to former Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed, is led out of the Richard B. Russell Federal Building by paramedics after she collapsed during her sentencing in the federal probe of corruption at Atlanta City Hall. BILL TORPY/BTORPY@AJC.COM

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U.S. Attorney Byung J. “BJay” Pak said he felt for Taylor-Parks and wished her a fast recovery. He also credited her for cooperating with investigators, but said her actions in taking gifts and cash payments from a city vendor would not be tolerated.

“The investigation is continuing. We’ll see where the facts lead us. But we are not done,” Pak said.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Jeff Davis said Taylor-Parks accepted bribes and gifts from a vendor he did not name on several occasions totaling about $15,000. These include a Louis Vuitton designer handbag, a trip to Chicago and a cruise to Mexico.

In exchange, Taylor-Parks helped the vendor arrange meetings with high-ranking city officials and introduced him to a member of the City Council. Prosecutors have not named that elected official.

In pleading to conspiracy to commit bribery, Taylor-Parks admitted accepting $4,000 in payments from the vendor, which was awarded $100,000 in city business. The Atlanta Journal-Constitution identified the vendor last year as a wireless internet company that obtained a sole-source contract at Piedmont Park and was controlled by Paul Marshall, a Marietta investment adviser who pleaded guilty in 2017 to defrauding investors.

Marshall also controlled a company called FOGFuels that won a City Council resolution authorizing the Reed administration to negotiate a sole-source contract to turn restaurant grease into biofuel. The contract was never fully consummated.

In November 2017, Marshall pleaded guilty to defrauding investors in an unrelated matter and was sentenced to six years and nine months in prison.

Davis said Taylor-Parks initially lied to the FBI in meetings in 2017 and 2018, but after being confronted by authorities she provided substantial cooperation. Davis said she met in person with federal authorities 16 times and had four additional interviews over the phone. She made 11 audio recordings of conversations with other individuals, who were not identified.

Taylor-Parks also provided the contents of two smartphones to federal investigators.

U.S. Attorney Byung J. “BJay” Pak speaks outside the federal courthouse in downtown Atlanta on Monday after the sentencing for Katrina Taylor-Parks was interrupted by a medical emergency on Monday, Jan. 14, 2019. J. SCOTT TRUBEY/STRUBEY@AJC.COM

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Jay Strongwater, an attorney for Taylor-Parks, asked the judge Monday to sentence his client to home confinement. Taylor-Parks is the sole caregiver to her mother, who is battling dementia.

As she rose to the lectern, teary-eyed and her voice breaking, Taylor-Parks acknowledged the professionalism of federal prosecutors and the FBI.

“I recognize my lack of judgment and take full responsibility,” she said. But she pleaded with the judge for mercy to take care of her ailing mother.

Jones said the prosecutors’ recommendation of 21 months was just. Because of her status in the Reed administration, others felt pressure to follow her direction.

“I’m very impressed by the people you have today,” Jones said. “I commend anybody who takes care of a parent and you’ve done a lot of good things. However I can’t overlook the seriousness of the offense.”

He then delivered his sentence and that’s when Taylor-Parks collapsed.

“I can’t breathe,” she said over and over again.

Strongwater said he didn’t think Taylor Parks hit her head on the way down.

“I don’t believe she has any physical injury,” Strongwater said.

Taylor-Parks’ husband, Tony Parks, asked that she be transported to WellStar Douglas Hospital, but her condition was not immediately known.

“She’s out of her mind right now,” Parks said. “It’s just a sad day.”

Parks said responsibility of caring for his wife’s mother will fall to him.

“I’ll try my best. That’s all I can do.”

Bribery probe players in prison

Elvin “E.R.” Mitchell Jr.

Elvin “E.R.” Mitchell Jr., a contractor, is serving a five-year sentence in a federal prison in Alabama. He pleaded guilty to conspiring to pay more than $1 million in bribes to win city business from 2010 to 2015


Adam Smith

Adam Smith, who for 14 years was Atlanta’s top purchasing officer, is serving a 27-month sentence in a federal prison in North Carolina. Smith pleaded guilty to accepting at least $30,000 in bribes from an as-yet-unidentified construction executive from 2015 to early 2017.

Charles P. Richards Jr.

Charles P. Richards Jr., a contractor, is serving a 27-month sentence in a federal prison in Pensacola, Fla. Richards admitted to conspiring to pay bribes from 2010 to 2015 to an as-yet-unnamed person.

Shandarrick Barnes

Shandarrick Barnes was sentenced to 37 months in federal prison for trying to coerce Mitchell to not cooperate with the federal investigation. Prosecutors say Barnes tried to intimidate Mitchell by throwing a brick through the front window of Mitchell’s home.