Woman accused of bribery — providing strippers, tickets and more to former Mississippi mayor — awaits verdict in separate trial in Atlanta
Published 6:02 am Wednesday, March 23, 2022
A woman accused of trying to use money and influence to get contract work from city officials in Jackson, now has her fate in the hands of a jury in Atlanta that is trying to decide if she is guilty of receiving bribes and then trying to cover it up while she worked for a former mayor in Atlanta.
Mitzi Bickers, a prominent political mover and shaker connected to former Jackson Mayor Tony Yarber, is on trial in Atlanta.
Bickers also worked with former Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed, helping win his election and then working as his director of human services.
Closing arguments were held Tuesday, the ninth day of her trial on federal charges including bribery. While others have already pleaded guilty in the long-running corruption investigation, Bickers is the first to stand trial.
In October 2018, Bickers was indicted on federal charges stemming from her time in Jackson. In that indictment, she is accused of bribing Jackson officials in an attempt to obtain contracts for a proposed convention center hotel and management of the city’s wastewater program under a federal consent decree.
In the indictment, federal prosecutors said that Bickers “attempted to enrich herself and others by obtaining lucrative government contracts with the City of Jackson … through the provision of money, goods and services to public officials intending to influence and reward the public officials for the exercise of their official duties.”
Bickers, who donated $14,000 to Yarber’s campaign, repeatedly met with Yarber beginning in the summer of 2014, shortly after he took office as mayor, and extending into 2015. Bickers also provided Yarber with airline tickets, chauffeured car services, hotel accommodations and a trip to New Orleans, which were paid for through her company, The Bickers Group.
Yarber was one of the witnesses in Bicker’s federal trial in Atlanta this week and revealed several surprising revelations including that he was provided with strippers, first-class airline seats, concert tickets, and luxury limo rides, all the former Jackson mayor said was tied to Bickers.
On Tuesday in Atlanta, prosecutors used their closing argument to portray Bickers as a mastermind who used her influence to direct about $17 million in contracts to former city contractors Elvin “E.R.” Mitchell Jr. and Charles P. Richards Jr. in exchange for about $2 million in bribes, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported.
Defense attorney Drew Findling told the jury that the government failed to prove any connection between Bickers and contracts going to Mitchell and Richards, the newspaper reported. Her role at City Hall did not include contracting, and prosecutors produced no evidence of communication between her and city employees alleged to have helped the scheme, he said.
“When you follow the money trail in this case, it cuts through the lies and the manipulation,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Nathan Kitchens said. “It all leads to one clear path, that the defendant Mitzi Bickers is guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.”
Bickers lied in her financial disclosure forms for the city and on her federal tax returns to hide the bribes, prosecutors said. She also instructed Mitchell to lie to the FBI in 2015 to hide her involvement, Kitchens said.
Prosecutors alleged that she used her influence during and after her time in Reed’s administration to steer contracts and bribed other officials in the process. Two current city employees were placed on paid administrative leave after their names came up during the trial, the newspaper reported.
Bickers used the money from bribes to support a lavish lifestyle, including buying a lakefront home, a luxury SUV, jet skis and taking expensive trips, prosecutors said.
During his closing argument, Findling attacked Mitchell, the prosecution’s star witness, saying he was a liar who turned on Richards and Bickers when the government discovered his wrongdoing.
“Honestly, this guy is the dirt on the bottom of your shoes,” Findling said.
Federal authorities had previously investigated Mitchell after he reached a settlement with Fulton County Schools over alleged overbilling. He was never charged but began working as a government informant in 2006, the newspaper reported.
Mitchell testified and prosecutors have said that cooperation ended before bribery at City Hall, but Findling disputed that. He said that when the FBI confronted him with evidence of bribery in 2015, that created a problem for the government.
“This is not the narrative the government needs,” Findling said. “Because if it’s him, it’s kind of them, because they enabled him.”
Findling insisted that the government’s case has no merit because Mitchell isn’t reliable, and the rest of the charges are shaky.
“This case has been built by the government on the backs of liars, on the backs of cooperators and on the back of a man with a history of defrauding taxpayers,” Findling said.
There are other explanations for Mitchell’s payments to Bickers, Findling argued, saying she did legitimate work for him after leaving the city and that payments made during her time with the city were actually for work she’d done previously.
But Bickers didn’t report that pay, Assistant U.S. Attorney Jeffrey Davis noted.
“The simple reason is because it wasn’t back pay,” Davis said. “It was bribe pay.”
Bickers is also accused of trying to use money and influence to get contract work from city officials in Jackson, Mississippi.
Bickers, who donated $14,000 to Yarber’s campaign, repeatedly met with Yarber beginning in the summer of 2014, shortly after he took office as mayor, and extending in to 2015. Bickers also provided Yarber with airline tickets, chauffeured car services, hotel accommodations and a trip to New Orleans, which were paid for through her company, The Bickers Group.