Witness: Bickers received bag stuffed with $100 bills

Charles Richards, the former owner of C.P. Richards Construction who pled guilty to conspiracy to commit bribery in 2017 after an FBI probe of Atlanta City Hall corruption, testifies on Friday in the public corruption trial of Mitzi Bickers.

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Charles Richards, the former owner of C.P. Richards Construction who pled guilty to conspiracy to commit bribery in 2017 after an FBI probe of Atlanta City Hall corruption, testifies on Friday in the public corruption trial of Mitzi Bickers.

Defense questions link between Bickers and key witness in alleged bribery scheme

A day after a former contractor claimed he paid Mitzi Bickers thousands in bribes to get $5.5 million in city of Atlanta construction contracts from 2010 to 2014, her attorney asked him to prove it.

Drew Findling said Friday in U.S. District Court that Charles Richards, who pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit bribery in 2017 after an FBI probe of Atlanta City Hall corruption, could not demonstrate he gave any money to Bickers.

Instead, Richards gave the money to Elvin “E.R.” Mitchell Jr., a fellow construction company owner and friend of both he and Bickers, Findling said. It was Mitchell who claimed Bickers was taking bribes to help Mitchell and Richards get the jump on Atlanta contracts, not any direct contact Richards had with his client, Findling said.

“You never got a phone call from Pastor Mitzi Bickers,” Findling said, later asking Richards if it was possible Bickers was not in on any scheme at all.

“You realize that that possibility exists,” Findling pounded to Richards.

“It seems rather unlikely, but it is a possibility,” Richards said.

Richards also made a direct payment to Bickers’ companies totaling $15,000 he called “marketing money,” but Bickers did not work for Richards’ firm. Assistant U.S. Attorney Jeffrey Davis asked Richards if Bickers ever called him to ask why he made those payments or to return the funds. Richards responded, “No.”

The questioning came Friday on the second day of testimony as federal prosecutors try to make the case that Bickers, pastor of Atlanta’s Emmanuel Baptist Church and the political operative behind former Mayor Kasim Reed’s first term in office, was a central player in the corruption investigation that rocked city hall during Reed’s second term.

The prosecutors allege Bickers accepted $2 million in bribe payments they allege she received through a web of companies and a series of bank transactions.

Here are some key developments in the first two days of testimony of a trial expected to last at least two weeks:

Richards, taking the stand for the first time Thursday afternoon, said he started working with Mitchell in late 2009 on the sidewalk contract that would eventually play a role in his jailing.

That original sidewalks contract for $750,000 grew to more than $5 million in business through 2015 as Mitchell, who acted as the minority contractor on the projects, steered change orders Richards’ way.

Prosecutors brought Richards back on Friday during which the contractor alleged that in late 2010, Mitchell secured a draft of eight Atlanta bridges in need of repair that the city had planned to let. The advanced notice -- which Mitchell alleged came from Bickers -- helped Richards scope out each bridge and determine their repair needs before competitors.

His company was chosen to repair bridges on Martin Luther King Jr. Drive in downtown Atlanta and at Park Drive at Piedmont Park. Richards alleged Mitchell directed him to inflate the repair costs -- he charged the city about $750,0000, almost twice his original estimate -- so Mitchell and Bickers could get their cut.

Prosecutors also called Deidre Verdier, a former girlfriend of Bickers who dated for most 2011, who claimed the pastor paid for most things in cash, including an expensive trip to Las Vegas, first-class airfare, meals and clothes.

Verdier said she met Mitchell and on one occasion he brought what she described as a “doctor’s bag” loaded with $100 bills bound with bank bands to Bickers’ home. She said Bickers had her take some of the money and stuff it into a dresser in a bedroom.

Asked why Bickers didn’t want her to put it in the bank, Verdier said “(Bickers) said she didn’t want to flag the IRS.

On cross examination, defense attorney Marissa Goldberg got Verdier to admit she had been untruthful in her past. But Verdier said lying had been a matter of survival in her upbringing and she credited Bickers for changing her life and restoring relations with her mother.

Atlanta City Hall investigation: previous AJC coverage

The ongoing investigation into corruption at Atlanta City Hall has taken many twists and turns since the first charges were filed in 2017. Here are some links to previous coverage by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

March 22: Closing arguments in the Mitzi Bickers trial

March 16: Key details of the trial

March 10: Opening arguments in the Mitzi Bickers trial

A timeline of key events in the investigation

Who’s who: Photos and details about some of the people mentioned in the investigation

Full coverage: Atlanta City Hall investigation stories from the AJC