- Dan Klepal The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
When Shandarrick Barnes hurled a brick through the plate-glass window of a city contractor who was cooperating with a federal pay-to-play investigation of Atlanta City Hall, he did so over concern that the probe would impact his boss and their ability to continue making money, according to admissions made in federal court on Tuesday.
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution confirmed that Barnes’ boss at the time was Rev. Mitzi Bickers — a political operative who helped Mayor Kasim Reed win election in 2009, and whose records have been subpoenaed by the U.S. Attorney’s Office in relation to the bribery probe.
Barnes pleaded guilty Tuesday to a single count of trying to intimidate a federal witness in connection with the brick-throwing incident. Prosecutors dropped four other charges against Barnes as part of the plea bargain, in exchange for his admission of guilt and a promise to cooperate with the ongoing investigation.
Barnes, 41, faces between three and four years in prison when he is sentenced Feb. 7.
The AJC has previously reported numerous business ties between Barnes and Bickers, and also that Bickers served as a job reference for Barnes when, fresh from a prison sentence for defrauding DeKalb and Cobb county governments of $300,000, he secured a job with the city’s Public Works Department in 2014.
Barnes was still employed by the city at the time of the September 2015 incident at Mitchell’s home, but defense attorney Bill Morrison confirmed Tuesday that Barnes was also working for Bickers as an administrative assistant. It is unclear for which of Bickers’ many companies Barnes was working.
“I don’t have any knowledge that he was instructed by Mitzi Bickers to throw that brick,” Morrison said after the hearing.
When reached on her cell phone Tuesday, Bickers hung up on a reporter without answering a question.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Kurt Erskine said Tuesday that several FBI agents, and another from the IRS, are still involved in the investigation of City Hall. When asked if Barnes was a bit player in the case, Erskine said he committed a serious crime.
“It’s important to remember that throwing a brick through a federal witness’ front window at 5:45 in the morning, while his family is there asleep … is an incredibly important event,” Erskine said. “That’s something like out of the movies.
“You just can’t do that. You can’t tamper with a federal investigation.”
Erskine outlined the case against Barnes in court: Agents from the FBI and IRS approached contractor Elvin “E.R.” Mitchell Jr. in September of 2015 in relation to City Hall bribery. Mitchell then told unnamed associates that he planned to cooperate with the investigation. Barnes, furious that Mitchell’s cooperation threatened his livelihood, committed the vandalism days later.
Barnes told U.S. District Court Judge Steve Jones that he is guilty of the charge. Dead rats were also left on Mitchell’s property — on his porch, truck and inside his mailbox. But after the hearing, Morrison said Barnes did not admit to planting the rats.
The U.S. Attorney’s Office has obtained Bickers’ work product through subpoena at both Atlanta City Hall, and from Clayton County where she currently works as a chaplain for Sheriff Victor Hill.
As the AJC previously reported, Bickers’ legal team asked her for all bank deposits from 2011-15, saying they were important to “identify proper taxable income” and “push back and/or defend what has happened.”
The AJC also obtained Mitchell’s personal banking records, which showed at least $1.6 million transferred from companies controlled by the contractor to companies controlled by Bickers between 2013 and 2015.
Barnes’ Election Day plea deal comes as Bickers appears to have re-emerged in Atlanta’s political scene. Robocall messages were sent out over the weekend with the voice of a woman who identified herself as “Pastor Mitzi Bickers.”
Bickers had been absent from the highly competitive Atlanta mayor’s race until last weekend. In the recording, obtained by the AJC, the woman didn’t endorse any candidates but encouraged residents to “vote the full ballot.”
“Don’t let negative and irresponsible media reporting and other evil forces discourage you from exercising your right to vote,” the recording says.
Mitchell was the first of two contractors to plead guilty in January, admitting to conspiracy to commit bribery. Contractor Charles P. Richards Jr. was Mitchell’s co-conspirator, and followed with a guilty plea in February.
Adam Smith, the city’s former chief purchasing officer, has pleaded guilty to accepting at least $30,000 in bribes and is also cooperating with the investigation. It is unclear if the money he took came from the contractors, or if his guilty plea represents a separate track of the investigation. Two days after Smith’s guilty plea, federal agents raided the office of the PRAD Group, a major airport contractor.