Mitzi Bickers (left) at her federal corruption trial before U.S. District Judge Steve C. Jones on March 14, 2022 in Atlanta. Courtroom Artist: Lucy Luckovich.
by Robin Kemp
Two witnesses in the federal corruption trial of Clayton County Sheriff’s Office Chief Chaplain and Chief of Staff Mitzi Bickers have testified that Bickers supported them, paying cash for nearly all their living expenses while encouraging them to open businesses and bank accounts through which five- and six-figure cash deposits, withdrawals, and wire transfers flowed. During much of that time, Bickers worked for the City of Atlanta at a $65,000 salary, yet Bickers entered a lease-purchase agreement on a $775,000 lakeside house with a pool in Lake Spivey.
Bickers is charged with two counts of conspiracy to commit bribery, three counts of money laundering, four counts of wire fraud, one count of tampering with a witness or informant, and one count of filing a false tax return. She has pleaded not guilty.
Henry County online tax assessor’s records list the current owner of the Lake Spivey house, appraised last year at $1,049,600 fair market value, as Anytime Bail Bonding, Inc. Bickers bought the house from real estate agent Sharon Patterson on June 28, 2011. Patterson testified that Bickers “initially couldn’t afford to buy” the house, so Patterson agreed to a three-year lease-purchase agreement so Bickers would have “time to get the money together.”
Deidre Verdier, now a flight attendant living in Texas, testified Friday that she had met Bickers, Robert Walker–a Jonesboro contractor and business associate of Bickers–and “another guy, Jonathan” in a KFC in Moss Point, MS sometime in 2011. At the time, Verdier, whose last name was Haynes, had been living in Moss Point with her grandmother. “She [Bickers] was opening a company in Louisiana,” Verdier said.
Louisiana corporate filings show that Bickers incorporated South City Groundworks of Louisiana, Inc. on May 20, 2011. Bickers is listed as president, while Walker is listed as executive vice-president and treasurer. The filing was revoked August 15, 2014. The company’s Gause Boulevard address in Slidell, a city on the North Shore across Lake Pontchartrain from New Orleans, is the same address as Hancock Whitney Bank. U.S. Department of Transportation records show South City Groundworks has 100 trucks and 200 drivers hauling gravel and sand in the state of Louisiana.
Verdier testified that one of the men was flirting with her: “I was like, no, I’m a rainbow kid. Is your friend [Bickers] single?”
Soon, Verdier said, “I spent a lot of time with her in Louisiana.” They dated for “a couple of weeks or a month” before Verdier moved in with Bickers at the “mini-mansion” on Lake Spivey after her birthday in July. There, Verdier said, she adopted a “lavish lifestyle,” paying for nearly all her expenses with cash that Bickers gave her. She said that parishoners at Bickers’ church addressed her as “Lady,” even though Bickers’ mother is the official first lady of Emmanuel Baptist.
Verdier said she did not know the exact amount of cash on hand. She described a trip that she, Bickers, and Bickers’ son, mother, and uncle took to Las Vegas that was paid for in cash. Verdier said the group flew first class on Delta, that she had come to Atlanta at the last minute and “bought everything I needed in Vegas,” including “my first Louis Vuitton shoes…I got my makeup done. I enjoyed Vegas.” According to Verdier, Bickers played high-stakes poker “in a nice room with velvet ropes around it” that cost at least $100 to play.
The couple took another vacation, “a safari trip with cabins,” Verdier testified. “We took the kids there on a safari ride.”
Then they paid cash for a couple of bicycles that were “$600 or $800 each,” she said.
“It was like, ‘Wow, I never had. a bike this expensive before,'” Verdier said.
Verdier testified that she had brought “physical cash” payment of “a couple of thousand dollars” on the Lake Spivey house to Patterson, saying that on one occasion, she had “overcounted the money by over $200 and Ms. Sharon called to let Ms. Bickers know it was an overpay.”
Verdier opened an account at Wells Fargo for household expenses, she said, with cash that Bickers gave her. “We never put more than a certain amount…$10,000…because we didn’t want to flag the IRS.”
“Did Mitzi Bickers ask you to open a company?” asked Assistant U.S. Attorney Jeffrey Davis.
“Yes,” Verdier replied, “so we could bid on contracts for the City of Atlanta.” However, she added, she did not go through with opening the company. Verdier said Bickers “just casually mentioned” using the names of Verdier’s children to form the company. She told the prosecution she had not expressed any interest in starting a company. She testified that she knew Bickers had a consulting firm and a construction company, Chateau Land, with which “her ex, Shedreka [Poole], was involved,” and that that “sort of” was why she did not open the company: “This is something she does with people she dates.”
Verdier described an incident in which she says E.R. Mitchell brought a bag of $100 bills to the Lake Spivey house: “He gave it to her and she gave it to me,” she told prosecutors, adding, “I can’t tell you the exact amount but it was a lot of money. More money than I had ever seen.” According to Verdier, the bag Mitchell carried “reminded me of an old-fashioned doctor’s bag,” and that it was stuffed with stacks of $100 bills wrapped in bank bands.
Mitchell pleaded guilty in 2017 for his role in the Atlanta City Hall bribery scandal, as did fellow contractor C.P. Richards. On Monday, Richards testified about paying “up-front money” for favorable access to city construction work, but that he did not know what financial relationship Mitchell had with Bickers. Prosecutors allege Bickers steered city contracts to the pair.
Over the defense’s objections, Verdier stated she’d overheard that “The money was to pay out to certain people….I was in passing, so I didn’t hear those people but the only name mentioned, Pastor Bickers and I were going with some of that money to one of her friends named Robert.” Verdier said Bickers handed her “a bundle of cash” which she placed in a chifforobe in the bedroom.
“Did you or her use the money E.R. gave her?” Davis asked.
“It’s what we lived off of,” Verdier said.
Verdier also testified that she had heard Bickers and Mitchell discuss “a nipple and a bid” by phone.
“The watershed project was talked about the most,” Verdier said, adding, “She [Bickers] told me about a contract they received to do city snow removal and that they made a lot of money from it.”
Defense attorney Drew Findling pressed Verdier as to whether she had said the money was to go to Walker, a Jonesboro contractor and business associate of Bickers.
“We took it to Robert because his home was in foreclosure,” Verdier said. “I didn’t say in any means that money was given to Robert Walker.”
She also said she remembered the doctor’s bag “because Pastor Bickers had the exact same bag in her closet.”
Verdier said that after Bickers had handed her the cash, “whatever he [Mitchell] had left in the bag went wherever it went.”
Findling asked whether Verdier had not been “honest in the relationship.”
“I’m the first to admit that,” she replied.
Findling asked about an e-mail in which Verdier allegedly said she had “been lying since you were 19.”
“I’ve probably been lying since I was conceived from the womb,” Verdier said.
Davis asked, “Did you lie about anything that you testified to today?”
“No, today I have not lied about anything,” Verdier said. “I didn’t want Ms. Bickers to think that I was here because of the end of our relationship. Because of her, I am a whole person. I’m happily married. I have a great relationship with my mother. Lying was a means of survival. But mentally, I’m the happiest and healthiest I’ve ever been in my entire life.”
After a break, defense attorneys told Judge Steve C. Jones that Verdier (referred to as Haynes) “was talking to the next witness,” Poole, outside the courtroom.
“Bring her in here,” Jones ordered, then quizzed her about whether she and Poole had discussed the case.
“No,” Verdier said, “We chatted about the fact that I was so nervous, I had to relieve myself.”
The defense asked that the case be dismissed. Jones denied the motion.
Poole, a surgical technologist, said she had been present when Bickers closed on the Lake Spivey house. Poole testified she had met Bickers at her church in 2006 and that they had dated on and off until about 2011. During that time, Poole said Bickers had given her cash for “bills, whatever I needed day to day,” sometimes biweekly, sometimes monthly, “$500 up to a couple of thousand dollars.”
Besides being a pastor, Poole said, Bickers “had her own business as a contractor,” but couldn’t remember the company name or what it did. Davis asked whether it was in the “political field.”
“Oh yeah,” Poole replied. “I worked with her on the Reed campaign get out the vote initiative.”
Davis asked whether Poole knew Mitchell.
“He was her boss, if I remember,” Poole said.
Poole testified that Bickers had “helped” her get a City of Atlanta job “in the water department,” and that she had opened an account at Bicker’s suggestion at Capital City Bank: “At the time, she had shared with me that there was a Black-owned bank that was looking to get people up in the neighborhood as members.”
Poole testified that she did not use the account, but that Bickers did, making deposits and withdrawals of tens of thousands of dollars between February 16, 2010 and May 17, 2011, including:
- Feb. 16, 2010: starting balance of $20,500
- Feb. 18, 2010: $20,000 debit
- March 2010: $500 balance
- April 2010: $500 balance
- May 2010: $500 balance
- February 2011: $500 balance, less $5 dormant account charge
- April/May 2011: beginning balance $485
- May 17, 2011: $42,000 deposit
- $10,000 cash deposit
- $32,000 loan to Cascade Building Systems
- May 17, 2011: $42,000 wire to Bickers
Poole said she did not take out a loan for Cascade Building Systems and that she did not send the wire to Bickers.
Poole said she and Bickers had opened Chateau Land Company so the couple could invest in real estate. She said she had taken no steps to start the business, other than opening a bank account at SunTrust at Bickers’ request, and that she never added anyone to the account. The government showed bank paperwork listing Poole, Bickers, and Carl Johnson–a drummer at Bickers’ church–on the account. Poole said she did not know Johnson was listed on the account and that the statements had gone to Bickers’ Atlanta home address. She added she thought Chateau Land Company had had only one bank account with about $500 in it.
She said it had been Bickers’ idea to file incorporation papers with the Georgia Secretary of State’s Office, and that a friend of Bickers, Sean Barnes, had done the filing. Poole was listed as CEO, Bickers as chief financial officer, and Bickers’ mother, Ethel, as secretary. The corporate address was listed as Bickers’ Lena Street home. The corporation was dissolved on September 11, 2010.
Poole testified on cross-examination that she had dreamed of becoming a real estate agent. She acknowledged that she and Bickers had collaborated in starting Chateau Land Company and that Bickers had supported her financially. Findling asked if she had testified that Mitchell was Bickers’ boss; Poole said yes.
On Monday, City of Atlanta payroll manager Sabrina Black testified that Bickers made $62,500 as the city’s executive director of human services, direct-depositing $600 into a Bank of America account and $829.64 into an Atlanta City Employees Credit Union account.
According to Albert Bantley, a Stockbridge attorney who was present at the Lake Spivey house closing, Patterson had contacted him to do the closing because they had worked together before. The house was Patterson’s personal home. The purchase price had been $900,000, but went down to $775,000. He testified that Patterson had agreed to finance the sale.
“It’s a lot easier to get a loan from the seller, if the seller is willing to do it, than in the traditional market,” Bantley said, noting that bank loans require buyers to submit tax returns, allow credit report checks, and job information.
Bantley said Bickers put down $224,000, signed a promissory note to pay $251,000 at 10% monthly, with the final payment due on July 1, 2012, and $299,000 due at closing. Bank records showed Bickers wired $81,000 from a SunTrust account and $104,000 from The Bickers Group, Inc. Operating Account on June 27, 2011, followed by another wire from Bickers on June 28 for $114,000, all to Bantley’s law firm. The three wires and the down payment totaled $523,000.
Yet according to Adrienne Richardson, a forensic accounting auditor for the U.S. Attorney, Northern District of Georgia, Bickers only received $16,943 from her city job between January 28 and June 30 that year.
Richardson testified that, across accounts that Bickers controlled, there had been $350,060 in cash deposits, as well as $85,000 that could be traced directly to City of Atlanta contractors Mitchell and C.P. Richards. She presented a series of PowerPoint slides, which were not admitted into evidence, to illustrate the various transactions.
According to Richardson, withdrawals from Mitchell’s accounts “lined up with deposits” to Bickers’ accounts, with the largest deposits in June 2011 around the time that Bickers bought the Lake Spivey house. Richardson traced three “large cash withdrawals” of $56,000; $25,00; and $100,000 from Mitchell’s accounts about two weeks before the closing, plus two wires of $50,000 and $3,000 directly from Mitchell to Bickers the day before the closing.
However, she said, Bickers only had $6,693.97 across four accounts just ten days before the closing. Bickers’ income from her city salary during that time, Richardson said, was $16,000.
On June 20, 2011, Patterson testified, Bickers “had to go to three banks” to make deposits under $9,500, which she said was indicative of “structuring,” or making deposits too small to set off red flags to banks.
The largest deposit was $87,000 on June 27, 2011, the day before the house closing. Without the various deposits, including $262,800 between June 20 and June 28 and two other wires totaling $40,000, Patterson said Bickers would have had “less than $1,000 to spare” after signing for the house.
Patterson said that, in 2011:
- the City of Atlanta paid $3,761,889 to Richards’ and Mitchell’s companies
- Mitchell withdrew $1,414,000 in cash
- Bickers deposited $507,987 in cash
- $507,000 was used for the Lake Spivey house
On cross-examination, Patterson agreed that she was not a forensic accountant.