A man accused of intimidating a federal witness with a brick and dead rats was ordered held Monday without bond.
Shandarrick Barnes, 41, was indicted last week on five counts related to a September 2015 incident at the home of contractor Elvin “E.R.” Mitchell Jr., the government’s star witness in a cash-for-contracts scheme at Atlanta City Hall. He has pleaded not guilty.
Federal prosecutor Kurt Erskine said the government wanted Barnes held without bond for what he described as a violent act against Mitchell, who at the time was just starting his cooperation in the corruption and tax evasion case.
For the first time, prosecutors at Barnes’ bond hearing offered clues into how the government zeroed in on Mitchell. Erskine said that in July 2015, agents of the FBI and IRS confronted Mitchell at an Atlanta restaurant with evidence Mitchell had paid bribes.
Erskine identified for the first time one of the pieces of city business Mitchell won through paying bribes: work to remove snow from winter storms in 2014. The Atlanta Journal-Constitution has previously reported Mitchell was paid more than $7 million in 2011 and 2014 for snow removal work that occurred around the time Mitchell admitted paying bribes.
Erskine said after being confronted by the feds, Mitchell told unnamed associates about the encounter, and that he intended to cooperate with the government. By August 2015, Erskine said Mitchell had cut off contact with the associates, and in interviews on Sept. 2 and Sept. 8, 2015, Mitchell described in detail the scheme to federal agents.
“In that time,” Erskine said, “Mr. Mitchell got a series of increasingly threatening messages.”
That culminated, Erskine said, in a pre-dawn act of vandalism at Mitchell’s home on Sept. 11, 2015. Dead rats were found Mitchell’s property and a brick with the words “Shut Up” and “ER Keep Your Mouth Shut,” crashed through the window.
Barnes admitted throwing the brick when questioned by authorities in July 2016, Erskine said. Authorities identified Barnes in part through video of a car taken from a camera operated by the homeowner’s association in Mitchell’s neighborhood.
“He almost immediately confessed,” Erskine said of Barnes.
Erskine said Barnes described himself as “livid” at Mitchell because Mitchell’s actions were going to cause him to lose opportunities to make money. The AJC previously identified business links between Barnes, Mitchell and Mitzi Bickers, a pastor, political consultant and former City Hall official whose city records have been subpoenaed in the bribery investigation.
Bickers has not been charged, and her name was not mentioned during Monday’s hearing.
Bill Morrison, an attorney for Barnes, said his client admitted to the act of vandalism, but Barnes denied to trying to intimidate a federal witness in the bribery case. Morrison said the act had “more to do with matters in Mississippi.”
After the hearing, Morrison said Barnes was angered because Mitchell tried to interfere with Barnes’ attempts to win contracts in Mississippi. Morrison declined to comment when asked if the Mississippi business had anything to do with Bickers.
Records show Mitchell and Bickers each incorporated companies in Jackson, Miss., and sought minority business certification there. In a federal lawsuit in Mississippi, Bickers allegedly told a Jackson official the former mayor wanted her to have a piece of a lucrative waterworks project.
Barnes, who worked for Atlanta’s public works department at the time, helped Bickers incorporate a business in Mississippi and took part in her political work there.
Morrison said his client is a minor figure in the complicated scandal. Morrison said Barnes did not deserve to be held without bond when Mitchell and Richards remain free on bond pending sentencing.
Chief Magistrate Judge Linda Walker disagreed.
“This court finds this was a little guy with a big brick,” she said.
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