You have reached your limit of free articles this month.

Enjoy unlimited access to myAJC.com

Starting at just 99¢ for 8 weeks.

GREAT REASONS TO SUBSCRIBE TODAY!

  • IN-DEPTH REPORTING
  • INTERACTIVE STORYTELLING
  • NEW TOPICS & COVERAGE
  • ePAPER
X

You have read of premium articles.

Get unlimited access to all of our breaking news, in-depth coverage and bonus content- exclusively for subscribers. Starting at just 99¢ for 8 weeks

X

Welcome to myAJC.com

This subscriber-only site gives you exclusive access to breaking news, in-depth coverage, exclusive interactives and bonus content.

You can read free articles of your choice a month that are only available on myAJC.com.

Key figure in Atlanta bribery probe pleads guilty


Federal prosecutors on Wednesday secured their first conviction in a city of Atlanta bribery scandal when Elvin “E.R.” Mitchell Jr., the only suspect named so far in the case, pleaded guilty to a conspiracy charge.

Mitchell, 63, admitted to conspiring to commit bribery in order to obtain city construction contracts, as well as conspiring to launder money, from 2010 to August 2015. He confessed to paying more than $1 million in that time to an unnamed person under the belief that the funds would be paid to one or more city officials with influence over the contracting process.

Mitchell was awarded contracts worth millions as part of the scheme, federal prosecutors said, adding that the defendant referred to the bribes as “upfront” money.

As part of his plea agreement, federal officials said, Mitchell agreed to cooperate with authorities and to testify in any future cases.

Mitchell faces a maximum sentence of five years in prison, a $500,000 fine, restitution and up to three years of supervised release. But the government will consider Mitchell’s cooperation in its probe when he faces sentencing. A sentencing hearing was scheduled for April 28.

Mitchell said little, other than to answer “yes sir” and “no sir” to questions from U.S. District Judge Steve Jones. After the half-hour hearing, Mitchell declined to comment, but his attorney spoke briefly with reporters and said Mitchell is cooperating.

“Mr. Mitchell made mistakes and he admitted to these mistakes,” defense attorney Craig Gillen said.

U.S. Attorney John A. Horn said bribes like those paid by Mitchell “destroy public confidence” in government.

“When taxpayer funds are used to fund expensive government construction projects, the public expects … that the process is fair,” Horn said. “When the process isn’t fair, it costs taxpayers more.”

The case has gripped City Hall since last week when Horn’s office announced charges against Mitchell and that he would plead guilty — a signal, legal experts said, that Mitchell would be a key witness in the investigation.

Last week, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution and Channel 2 Action News reported on a September 2015 incident in which someone attempted to intimidate Mitchell and keep him from talking to federal agents. A brick was thrown through a window in Mitchell’s home and dead rats were left on his property. The brick had writing on it: “ER, keep your mouth shut!!! Shut up.”

An arrest was made in that case last year.

Mitchell is the principal of E.R. Mitchell Company and a number of related businesses. The firm was founded by Mitchell’s late father in 1960.

The Mitchell companies are among the best-known and most respected minority-owned builders and contractors in the city. E.R. Mitchell Company and its subsidiaries have taken part in major government construction projects for the city, as well as school systems in DeKalb and Fulton counties, the fifth runway at Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport and the Georgia World Congress Center.

Mitchell also has been a supporter of a number of local and state politicians.

In 2009, he hosted a fundraiser at his office for Kasim Reed in his first run for Atlanta mayor. Mitchell was a co-chair of a 2011 event where he raised $10,000 for Reed.

Mitchell and his companies have contributed more than $7,000 to Reed’s mayoral and state Senate campaigns since 2006. Anne Torres, spokeswoman for Reed, described Mitchell as an acquaintance of the mayor.

Torres declined to comment on the guilty plea, citing the ongoing investigation. She said the city has been cooperating the government for some time.

“What I can reiterate is the following: The integrity of the City’s procurement processes is of utmost concern, and complete cooperation with this investigation is the topmost priority of the City of Atlanta,” she said.

Atlanta City Council members were careful on Wednesday not to speak directly about Mitchell’s guilty plea. Because the investigation is ongoing, the city’s law department advised them to avoid commenting specifically on Mitchell, multiple council members said.

What remains a concern, said Councilwoman Felicia Moore, is whether the corruption is widespread or limited to a few players. Until there is more clarity, City Hall will remain under a cloud.

“There are still question marks out there,” she said. “We still don’t know the scope of what occurred and how it occurred.”

The bribery scandal comes as a time when the council has been pushing legislation that would put city finances, contracts and other Atlanta business matters online for more transparency. Council President Ceasar Mitchell said the allegations against Mitchell could make that happen faster.

“In this moment in time, we need to scrutinize proposals that come before council in a heightened fashion,” he said. “We need to make city actions more transparent as close to real time as possible.”



Reader Comments ...


Next Up in Georgia Politics

Why Handel has embraced Trump ahead of 6th District runoff
Why Handel has embraced Trump ahead of 6th District runoff

Republican Karen Handel has wholeheartedly embraced President Donald Trump ahead of a June matchup against a surging Democrat, securing financial help for her costly campaign but also embarking on potentially treacherous political ground in a district that was skeptical of him. In the runup to last week’s special election, Handel was chastised...
From Georgia power broker to prison; ex-Sen. Charles Walker’s comeback
From Georgia power broker to prison; ex-Sen. Charles Walker’s comeback

Nicknamed “The Hammer,” Charles Walker was a share-cropper’s son turned millionaire Augusta businessman who rose to become the Georgia Senate’s only African-American majority leader. But the feds came after him hard in the mid-2000s, and he was convicted on mail fraud and other charges and sentenced to a decade in...
Early voting for Senate District 32 race begins May 6 in Sandy Springs
Early voting for Senate District 32 race begins May 6 in Sandy Springs

Voters in north Fulton County will be able to cast ballots as early as May 6 for the runoff election to fill Judson Hill’s state Senate seat. The North Fulton Service Center at 7741 Roswell Road in Sandy Springs will be home to the lone early voting polling place for the District 32 election. Early voting will be available Saturday, May 6 through...
Deal signs bill to increase Georgia’s hunting, fishing license fees
Deal signs bill to increase Georgia’s hunting, fishing license fees

Georgia wildlife officials expect to soon be able to hire dozens of rangers and make other improvements to public sites across the state after Gov. Nathan Deal signed into law Tuesday the state’s first increase in hunting and fishing fees in 25 years. House Bill 208, sponsored by state Rep. Trey Rhodes, R-Greensboro, represents a big...
Georgia’s hunting, fishing license fees going up after Deal signs bill
Georgia’s hunting, fishing license fees going up after Deal signs bill

Georgia wildlife officials expect to soon be able to hire dozens of new rangers and make other improvements to public sites across the state, after Gov. Nathan Deal signed into law Tuesday the state’s first increase in hunting and fishing fees in 25 years. House Bill 208, sponsored by state Rep. Trey Rhodes, R-Greensboro, represents a big...
More Stories