Atlanta’s former chief purchasing officer Adam Smith, left, leaves the federal courthouse in September after pleading guilty to accepting more than $30,000 in bribes from a city vendor. HYOSUB SHIN / HSHIN@AJC.COM

Pak: Feds still pursuing leads in Atlanta bribery probe

The federal government’s probe into contracting at Atlanta City Hall is ongoing, and the public might see new investigative activity in the case now that the city’s elections have been decided, U.S. Attorney Byung J. “BJay” Pak  told a radio station in an interview broadcast Wednesday.

Pak, who oversees the Northern District of Georgia, also said his office is focused on rooting out corruption in governments throughout his jurisdiction.

Pak was guarded in his comments. But he told WABE there are flaws in Atlanta’s contracting process, and he said he hopes to see Mayor-elect Keisha Lance Bottoms follow through on her promises to audit and reform purchasing.

“You can see that some folks had more control over the process and there were not enough checks and balances,” he said.

Two longtime city contractors and the city’s former top purchasing officer have pleaded guilty to participating in the scheme, and they are cooperating.

Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed addresses reporters in at a February press conference before the release of 1.4 million documents pertaining to the City Hall bribery investigation. (HENRY TAYLOR / HENRY.TAYLOR@AJC.COM)
Photo: The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

A fourth man pleaded guilty to trying to intimidate one of the contactors by throwing a brick through a window of his home after the contractor became a federal witness.

Pak declined to say if others are currently under criminal investigation.

But it is known that investigators have sought records from another former city official, the Rev. Mitzi Bickers, as well as an associate of hers. Bickers is a political consultant who helped Mayor Kasim Reed win his first bid for mayor in 2009.

Bickers has not commented.

In a statement, Bottoms said she remains “committed to strengthening ethics in City Hall and look forward to immediately consulting with respected thought leaders on how best to create a process that will ensure public trust and transparency in our procurement decisions.”

Reed’s office has pledged the city’s full cooperation with prosecutors.

“I do believe since the investigation is ongoing you may see more actions from our office and the investigative agents,” Pak said. “You will hear through the grapevine that we are in fact talking to some other people.”

Pak said his office is still running down leads from “several cooperators,” including the two contractors. The FBI also raided the offices of a Sandy Springs company that has done work with the city in an action believed to be part of the corruption probe.

Elvin “E.R.” Mitchell Jr. (right) stands with his attorney, Craig Gillen, after Mitchell was sentenced for his role in the Atlanta City Hall bribery scandal. HYOSUB SHIN / HSHIN@AJC.COM
Photo: The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

The investigation, at least in the public eye, has gone quiet in recent weeks, host Denis O’Hayer said, asking if the public might see more activity from investigators.

“You are probably aware the Department of Justice and also our office, we have a policy of not doing any overt actions reflecting the investigation within about six weeks of the election for fear we may influence the election one way or the other,” Pak said.

Charles P. Richards Jr. pleaded guilty in February to conspiracy to commit bribery in order to obtain city of Atlanta contracts. BRANDEN CAMP/SPECIAL
Photo: The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Earlier this month, Bottoms defeated fellow Councilwoman Mary Norwood by a narrow margin in a runoff. The contracting scandal became a major issue in the race.

Both candidates pledged reforms to purchasing. Bottoms received criticism from rivals for accepting substantial backing from city vendors.

Pak declined to provide a timeline for the investigation but said “we are sensitive to the fact the longer it lasts it may cast a cloud over the administration.”

“We are moving with due speed, but at the same time, we need to track down and chase down all leads, investigative leads, that we have,” he said.

U.S. Attorney Byung J. “BJay” Pak.
Photo: The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Pak also said public corruption cases are a priority for his office, and prosecutors are looking for cases beyond the city of Atlanta.

“We are focused on not just Atlanta,” he said. “My plan is to look for these types of cases outside the metro Atlanta area to the entire 46 counties that the northern district of Georgia comprises. I think you will see my office more present in the rural counties going forward.”

Pak declined to confirm if his office has active investigations underway in other local governments.  

“I can’t tell you that, but yes, we are getting leads almost every day,” he said.

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