Courtroom Artist: Lucy Luckovich
by Robin Kemp
A jury could begin deliberations in Clayton County Sheriff’s Office Chief of Staff and Chief Chaplain Mitzi Bickers’ federal corruption trial.
On Monday, after the government had presented its case, defense attorney declined to call any witnesses for Bickers.
U.S. District Judge Steve C. Jones asked Bickers whether she wanted to speak in her own defense.
“I will not,” Bickers replied.
With that, the defense rested its case.
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.
She also faces a separate federal case involving alleged attempts to steer contracts in Jackson, MS in connection with former Mayor Tony Yarber, who testified this week in Bickers’ Atlanta bribery trial.
Also on Monday, the defense requested that jurors be instructed that “only gifts received with the corrupt intent to be influenced or rewarded by that governmental official in connection with a business or transaction or series of transactions of that governmental entity involving $5,000 or more” are prohibited.
On Monday, U.S. District Judge Steve C. Jones denied a motion by Mitzi Bickers’ defense team to throw out testimony by former City of Atlanta contractor E.R. Mitchell. The defense had argued that Mitchell lied about “(1) whether the FBI tasked him with inducing others to commit bribery; (2) whether Mr. Mitchell from 2006 to 2012 received yearly admonishments from the FBI; and (3) whether Mr. Mitchell was cooperating with the FBI into 2012.” The defense wanted Jones “to instruct the jury to disregard Mr. Mitchell’s testimony about these three topics.” Federal prosecutors argued that the defense had “mischaracterized Mr. Mitchell’s testimony about whether he was tasked with inducing individuals to commit bribery, and [that] the FBI file shows that Mr. Mitchell stopped working with the FBI in 2007.”
In his ruling, Jones wrote, “the Court finds that Mr. Mitchell did not give false testimony regarding his work with the FBI. Defendant asked whether the FBI gave Mr. Mitchell the goal of creating bribery cases in the public sector. In response, Mr. Mitchell testified that he could not remember whether that was his goal because he had not read his agreement in several years. The Court does not find that this statement is false.”
In addition, the judge wrote, “Defendant argues that the FBI file shows a Giglio error because Mr. Mitchell received annual admonishments from 2006 to 2012. Defendant asked Mr. Mitchell one question about whether Mr. Mitchell remembered receiving admonishments. Mr. Mitchell responded that he did not remember that. As stated above, the Court does not view this as false testimony.”
Finally, as to when Mitchell was working with the FBI, Jones wrote, “Defendant argues that there was a Giglio error when Mr. Mitchell stated that he did not cooperate with the FBI from 2006 to 2012. On March 16, 2022, Mr. Mitchell testified, outside of the presence of the jury, that he believed that his FBI cooperation ended in 2009. Mr. Mitchell testified to the same effect in front of the jury. The Court does not find that Mr. Mitchell’s testimony was false.” Jones added that a review of the FBI’s file shows Mitchell did not cooperate with the FBI after 2007: “the Court notes that from December 2010 through November 2012, the quarterly reports note that there was no documented contact between the FBI and Mr. Mitchell.”
Jones ruled that the defense had not shown the prosecution had “knowingly allowed Mr. Mitchell to falsely testify that his cooperation ended in 2009. The FBI file is unclear as to the exact end date of Mr. Mitchell’s cooperation with the FBI, or even Mr. Mitchell’s level of cooperation with the FBI from 2009 through 2012.” Mitchell had testified “that in 2017 he received a reduced sentence because he agreed to cooperate with the Government and testify at this trial. Additionally, Mr. Mitchell stated that he would likely be sent back to prison if he did not truthfully testify during this trial. The Court finds that the jury can reasonably infer that Mr. Mitchell agreed to testify to receive a reduced sentence and avoid additional jail time….even if Mr. Mitchell’s testimony regarding the period he worked with the FBI was false, it was not material.”
The court did note that the file indicated the FBI file contained “a notation that Mr. Mitchell was being redeveloped for potential international activities, particularly with the United Arab Emirates.” Earlier in the trial, defense attorney Drew Findling had referred to the United Arab Emirates, while the jury was out of the room, characterizing information related to one witness as being like something out of a spy novel.
On Friday, Yarber, the former mayor of Jackson, MS and on whose campaign Bickers had worked (bringing about a dozen people from Atlanta to get out the vote in Jackson), testified about a party featuring strippers wearing only body paint that Bickers had hosted. Yarber testified that Bickers had been after two contracts with the City of Jackson, and that she flew Yarber to Atlanta via private jet to Atlanta. That weekend, Yarber said, he partied with former contractor E.R. Mitchell and “a lot of Black folks with money” at Bickers’ Lake Spivey house, which he described as feeling like the set of “Real Housewives of Atlanta.” Yarber said he also met Mayor Kasim Reed while in town for that fundraiser.
According to Yarber, in 2014, Bickers flew him first class on Delta, put him up at the Ritz-Carlton, got him free tickets to see Frankie Beverly and Maze, and had him chauffeured around Atlanta to several events she had hosted. At the time, Bickers was trying to get a piece of two lucrative City of Jackson contracts: a $1 billion sewer system replacement and a $75 million convention center hotel. He testified that Bickers had signed on as a minority contractor with AECOM, a Los Angeles-based firm which was a prime bidder for the sewer contract. Yarber said he did not take any bribes.
Yarber also testified that he ran into Bickers at a New Orleans strip club. Yarber said he had traveled to New Orleans in town for a party hosted by a company at a Bourbon Street strip club and that he was surprised to see Bickers there.
Former Jackson contracts official Stephanie Coleman also testified, telling jurors Bickers took her to dinner, told her Yarber had sent her, and that she needed Coleman to help her get some paperwork to ensure she would get a piece of the contract. According to the AJC, Coleman said Bickers “mentioned that she was a longtime friend of the mayor. She told me she knew she was gonna be a part of that contract.” However, the Jackson City Council voted not to award the deal because of the paperwork.
Bickers folded her tent and left Jackson soon after.