As part of his plea, Richards agreed to cooperate with the continuing investigation and testify in future court proceedings in exchange for a possible reduction in his sentence.
Richards’ attorney Lynne Borsuk said he entered into the scheme in the wake of the Great Recession, in an attempt to save his construction company from bankruptcy. Borsuk said Richards is “deeply remorseful.”
“The services Mr. Richards provided to the city were genuine services,” Borsuk said. “He did a wrongful thing … (but) he was in fear of his company going under and his employees losing their jobs.”
Richards joins Atlanta contractor Elvin "E.R." Mitchell, Jr., who pleaded guilty to a single count of conspiracy to commit bribery and launder money Jan. 25. Mitchell admitted to paying more than $1 million in exchange for city contracts in the same scheme. Mitchell also will be sentenced April 28.
Borsuk said it was Mitchell who approached Richards with the idea of the bribery scheme.
LEARN MORE: THE INVESTIGATION GROWS
The U.S. Attorney’s Office has not named any city official in connection with the case. But they say the conspiracy was active from 2010 to 2015, and that both Richards and Mitchell paid bribes to an unnamed person, believing some of the money would be given to city officials with influence over contract awards.
John A. Horn, U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Georgia, would not comment when asked who is the middle person allegedly delivering the bribes to city officials. He also declined to comment when asked how many city officials were involved, and when they might be charged.
“Today’s plea adds a layer of understanding to the conspiracy identified weeks ago,” Horn said. “Because this matter is still pending, I can’t comment further.”
Richards, 64, paid the money so that his companies, C.P. Richards Construction Co., and C.P. Richards & Associates, would be given contracts, prosecutors say. He and Mitchell are longtime friends who took over their businesses from their fathers, according to Mitchell’s wife, who is suing her husband for divorce.
Since at least 2009, the men teamed up to win city work in joint ventures, and also won contracts individually, according to an Atlanta Journal-Constitution analysis of city records.
LEARN MORE: THE LATEST ON THE CASE
The city paid Richards’ companies at least $9.8 million since 2009, according to an AJC analysis of city vendor data. Prosecutors have identified five bribe payments made by Richards, four of which were paid with checks: a $20,000 check on Jan. 29, 2013; a $15,000 check on Jan. 15, 2014; a $50,000 wire transfer on March 27, 2014; a $12,000 check on June 26, 2015; and a $30,000 check on Aug. 7, 2015.
Richards’ was awarded contracts with at least four different city departments: public works; watershed management; parks and recreation; and planning and community development. The company fixed sidewalks and sewers, renovated a recreation center at Grant Park and was involved in numerous streetscape projects throughout the city.
And as The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported Feb. 3, Mitchell's company, Cascade Building Systems LLC, earned at least $7.3 million from the city for emergency work from 2010 to 2015, much of it for winter storms in 2011 and 2014, according to an analysis of city vendor payments. Federal prosecutors have identified at least 11 withdrawals or wire transfers made by Mitchell in that case.
The bribery timeline
Federal investigators say two construction contractors, Elvin “E.R.” Mitchell, Jr. and Charles P. Richards Jr., paid bribes in exchange for city of Atlanta contracts. Here is a chronological listing of money paid by the two men in furtherance of the conspiracy, as identified by the U.S. Attorney’s Office:
Jan. 27, 2011: $70,000 Mitchell cash withdrawal
Feb. 2-8, 2011: $200,000 in Mitchell cash withdrawals
June 23, 2011: $100,000 Mitchell cash withdrawal (money laundering)
Jan. 29, 2013: $20,000 Richards check
Jan. 15, 2014: $15,000 Richards check
Feb. 5, 2014: $7,000 Mitchell cash withdrawal
Feb. 7, 2014: $2,500 Mitchell cash withdrawal
Feb. 10, 2014: $9,500 Mitchell cash withdrawal
Feb. 14, 2014: $9,500 Mitchell cash withdrawal
Feb. 18, 2014: $9,500 Mitchell cash withdrawal
Feb. 19, 2014: $150,000 Mitchell cash withdrawal
March 27, 2014: $50,000 Richards wire transfer
April 1, 2014: $110,000 Mitchell wire transfer
April 1, 2014: $140,000 Mitchell cash withdrawal (money laundering)
June 26, 2015: $12,000 Richards check
Aug. 7, 2015: $30,000 Richards check
Source: U.S. Attorney's Office.