Wife files for divorce from Atlanta contractor in bribery scandal

Marjorie Mitchell. SPECIAL

Marjorie Mitchell. SPECIAL

The wife of an Atlanta contractor who pleaded guilty last month in the City Hall bribery investigation has filed for divorce, citing Elvin "E.R." Mitchell Jr.'s recent criminal conviction in the case among her reasons to end their 28-year marriage.

Marjorie Mitchell also alleges her husband “maxed out” the couple’s Atlanta and South Carolina homes with debt after she paid off the mortgages, and used funds kept in a trust for their children for himself, according to a divorce complaint filed early Monday in Fulton County Superior Court. Mitchell, who admitted last month to paying more than $1 million in bribes in exchange for city of Atlanta contracts, agreed in his guilty plea to testify in the federal probe.

Also named in the divorce as a co-defendant is Mitzi Bickers, a former Atlanta school board president, political consultant and pastor, who once worked for one of E.R. Mitchell’s companies. Esther Panitch, Marjorie Mitchell’s attorney, said Bickers may have interests in a number of companies and properties connected to E.R. Mitchell that his client would have rights to in a divorce.

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution and Channel 2 Action News first reported last month Bickers formerly employed a Paulding County man who confessed to federal authorities late last year to tossing a brick through the Mitchells' window and leaving dead rats on their property in September 2015, in an apparent attempt to keep E.R. Mitchell from helping federal agents.

The bribery scandal has gripped City Hall since federal prosecutors announced charges against Mitchell in January. Documents obtained by the AJC and Channel 2 show Mitchell has been talking to federal agents since at least September 2015.

On Jan. 25, Mitchell admitted to conspiring to commit bribery to obtain city 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 "who exercised influence over the contracting process," according to the criminal complaint against him.

On Monday, Panitch said her client, who has been living separately from her husband for months, is “horrified by what’s been happening.”

“This has been a nightmare for my client,” Panitch said. “She’s trying to get to the truth and reconcile the person she married to the person he’s apparently become.”

Craig Gillen, E.R. Mitchell’s criminal defense attorney, said he had no comment on the divorce complaint and said he will not be Mitchell’s attorney in divorce court.

Attempts by AJC reporters to contact Bickers over the past few weeks have not been successful.

‘Without her consent’

Marjorie Mitchell alleges in the complaint her husband borrowed $1 million from her during their marriage, or the bulk of her savings, and that companies and properties, some named in federal subpoenas, have been placed in her name without her knowledge.

She is seeking that all loans be repaid and any “fraudulent conveyances between defendants (E.R.) Mitchell and Bickers be rescinded,” the complaint said.

Mitchell and Bickers have a number of business connections. Bickers formerly worked as a vice president operations at E.R. Mitchell Company, one of Mitchell’s firms, according to a resolution honoring her in 2012 at the state Capitol. She also purchased property from Mitchell in Atlanta and in Decatur in recent years.

Shandarrick Barnes, the man who admitted to federal authorities tossing the brick into the Mitchell’s home, served as chief financial officer of The Bickers Group, a public relations firm from 2004 to 2010, according to state corporations records. Barnes also was listed in 2007 and 2008 as secretary for Chateau Land Company, of which Bickers was the CFO.

E.R. Mitchell, Bickers and Chateau were previously defendants in a 2013 lawsuit over defaulted real estate loans issued in 2008 and 2009 that appears to have settled out of court in 2014.

Bickers played a key role in get-out-the-vote efforts in Kasim Reed’s 2009 upset runoff victory in his first run for mayor and as well as candidates across the South, including U.S. Sen. Thad Cochran, R-Miss. After Reed won, Bickers went to work for the city as director of human services from 2010 to 2013.

The city of Atlanta so far has not released records relating to Mitchell’s business as a contractor with the city, which might provide greater detail on the probe. The city’s attorney has said some 1.3 million pages of records connected with the case could be released by Friday.

Last week, the AJC published an analysis from an exclusive data warehouse of city vendor information that found that a company belonging to Mitchell did at least $7.3 million in emergency work for the city from 2010 to 2015, during which Mitchell admitted to paying bribes.

Cascade Building Systems LLC received 10 payments for emergency services from the city during that time, and invoices between 2011 and 2014 occur within days of withdrawals and other financial transactions that prosecutors say Mitchell performed to pay bribes and launder money, according to an AJC analysis of the criminal charges and electronic vendor payments data.

Marjorie Mitchell’s name is listed as the point of contact for Cascade and another company that filed with the city for status as minority and or female business contractors, eligible to do business with the city and receive bonus points in the scoring of bids.

Panitch has said her client had no role in either and that her name was used without her knowledge. Panitch said her client has not been contacted by authorities.

On Monday, Panitch reiterated that “any construction business done in her name was done without her consent.”

The AJC also reported last week that federal prosecutors in November subpoenaed information related to Mitchell and several of his companies and a Lithonia construction company owner, Charles P. Richards Jr. and his company C.P. Richards Construction.

Cascade partnered with C.P. Richards as a minority-owned subcontractor for projects including streetscape repairs in southwest Atlanta, according to city of Atlanta procurement documents.

From 2009 to 2014, the city paid C.P. Richards nearly $10 million on more than 100 invoices, according to an analysis of the city’s vendor payment data. The vendor data does not show how many jobs Cascade got as a minority subcontractor for C.P. Richards or how much it was paid.