The divorce case of a key figure in the Atlanta City Hall bribery investigation expanded Monday when a judge agreed to allow several companies and the sister and mother of contractor Elvin “E.R.” Mitchell Jr. to be added as defendants.
Esther Panitch, an attorney for Marjorie Mitchell, the contractor’s wife, sought to broaden the ranks of defendants in the family matter as the plaintiffs comb a complex web of companies for assets that might be part of the marital estate.
Panitch has argued E.R. Mitchell hid assets among his companies, a claim denied by Odis Williams, Mitchell’s divorce attorney.
E.R. Mitchell pleaded guilty in January to conspiring to pay more than $1 million in bribes from 2010 to 2015. Mitchell admitted to making payments to an unnamed person under the belief money would go to one or more city officials with influence over contracting.
Mitchell agreed to cooperate with prosecutors in exchange for leniency. He is scheduled to be sentenced in October, and faces up to five years in prison as part of his plea deal.
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution previously reported Mitchell was paid $7.3 million for emergency snow removal work in 2011 and 2014. He also had a piece of a lucrative long-term sidewalk contract.
The criminal case rocked City Hall when the charges were revealed in January. In February, a second contractor pleaded guilty in the investigation.
The Mitchell divorce, meanwhile, has opened a window into the contractor’s business dealings, including close ties to a former City Hall official, Mitzi Bickers.
Federal prosecutors issued a subpoena to the city in the criminal case for records related to Bickers as part of the investigation. Bickers has not been accused of or charged with a crime.
Bickers, once an executive for Mitchell, worked as the city’s director of human services from 2010 to 2013, and helped manage get-out-the-vote efforts for Mayor Kasim Reed in his first run for the office in 2009.
Bickers at one point was a defendant in the divorce case, accused of holding assets that belonged to the Mitchells’ estate. Bickers later deeded a Decatur home to Marjorie Mitchell and is no longer a party to the case.
Searching for assets
Panitch has claimed E.R. Mitchell was barred from getting new government contracts after reaching a non-prosecution agreement with the feds in 2006 to be a federal witness. After that, she alleges, Mitchell put companies in the names of Ruth Mitchell, his mother, and Marjorie Mitchell to win contracts.
Federal authorities have not commented on whether E.R. Mitchell previously was a government informant, though Panitch found an unsigned draft agreement with prosecutors dated in 2006.
One of the central companies in the bribery scheme, Cascade Building Systems, was at one time registered in Marjorie Mitchell’s name. Panitch said her client was not involved in the company’s operations and was not involved in any wrongdoing.
Cynthia Mitchell has worked for her brother as an executive. Ruth Mitchell has been listed as an owner of companies tied to the contractor and wrote checks for various Mitchell companies.
“Certainly, they could unknowingly be hiding assets that could belong to Marjorie and E.R. as marital property,” Panitch said after the hearing.
Williams objected to adding Mitchell’s mother and sister to the case and said after the hearing he would move to dismiss them. He called Panitch’s maneuvers “a fishing expedition.”
The Mitchells, Williams said, paid for college for three children and owned homes in Atlanta and Hilton Head Island, S.C. He called any contention that E.R. Mitchell hid assets years in advance of his divorce “ridiculous.”
“The documents reflect this money came into companies that were either owned by Marjorie, jointly owned [by the Mitchells] and that Marjorie had no problem spending that money,” Williams said.
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