ATLANTA — A jury has begun deliberations in the Mitzi Bickers federal bribery trial.
The prosecution says Bickers was at the center of pervasive corruption that “cast a pall over Atlanta’s City Hall.”
The defense told the jury that Bickers was targeted by a government witness who is “a piece of dirt.”
Channel 2′s investigative reporter Richard Belcher was inside the courtroom Tuesday for the closing arguments which were followed by Judge Stephen Jones’ instructions to the jury before they began deliberations.
Bickers is accused of bribery, money laundering and tax evasion in an alleged scheme in which prosecutors say she received nearly $2 million in bribes in exchange for steering nearly $20 million in city contracts to two local businessmen.
One of those is E. R. Mitchell, the prosecution’s star witness.
There’s never been any question that the defense would try to keep the focus on Mitchell, whose trouble with authorities stretches back to 2006.
That’s when he started cooperating with the FBI for the first time to avoid prosecution for a suspected $1.7 million in excessive charges for his company’s work on two Fulton County schools.
In his 90-minute closing argument, Findling said Mitchell lied on the stand about how long he worked with the FBI after his 2015 deal to avoid prosecution.
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He told the jury when FBI agents discovered in 2015 that he was involved in bribing city officials, agents were afraid his role as an informant would embarrass the FBI and Department of Justice.
That’s when “he makes a decision that he is going to start taking people down. That’s what he does,” Findling said.
Findling argues the first person Mitchell took down was his partner, contractor C.P. Richards.
Richards and Mitchell have already pleaded guilty to bribery, gone to prison and completed their sentences.
Richards testified in this trial that he paid $53,000 in bribes directly to Bickers.
Findling said Mitchell then turned on Bickers, despite the fact that she had stood by Mitchell through his deep financial troubles that began with his 2006 run-in with the FBI and federal prosecutors.
“This guy is just the dirt on the bottom of your shoes,” Findling said in his closing argument.
Jurors heard a sharply different view of Mitchell from prosecutor Jeffrey Davis.
“E.R. Mitchell is not on trial. He’s already been convicted,” Davis said.
And about Mitchell’s role with the FBI, Davis told the jury: “It’s legally impossible to be convicted of a crime, if you’re working for the FBI.”
Responding to the defense’s contention that the hundreds of thousands of dollars paid by Mitchell to Bickers — much of it in cash, according to trial testimony — was money Mitchell owed her.
“It wasn’t back pay. It was bribe pay,” Davis said.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Nathan Kitchens added, “Taxpayers of the city of Atlanta we’re overbilled I left to pay the tab.”
Bickers, a one-time confidante of Kasim Reed, played a key role in his 2009 election and later headed his Office of Human Services for a little more than three years.
Bickers is accused of accepting bribes and steering contracts both while she was with the city and after she left the city.
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