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New details in case of Atlanta bribery suspect menaced with rats

As the corruption probe into city of Atlanta contracts netted a guilty plea in federal court Wednesday, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution and Channel 2 Action News have learned new details about the attempt to silence contractor Elvin “E.R.” Mitchell Jr., a central figure in the case.

Mitchell pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit bribery and money laundering for paying more than $1 million to an unnamed person to secure construction contracts in Atlanta from 2010 to August 2015. Mitchell believed a portion of the money he paid went to one or more city officials with influence over contracting, the government alleges.

Mitchell’s companies won millions of dollars worth of contracts during that time, according to the guilty plea.

In November, police charged a Paulding County man for a September 2015 incident in which a brick was thrown through Mitchell’s window with the words “ER, keep your mouth shut!!!” Dead rats also were left on Mitchell’s property.

Shandarrick L. Barnes, the man arrested in the brick-throwing incident, was previously imprisoned for racketeering in 2010 for his role in a bail bonding scheme in DeKalb County, the AJC and Channel 2 have learned.

Prior to his imprisonment, from 2004 to 2010, Barnes was listed as chief financial officer for a public relations company owned by Mitzi Bickers, who worked in Mayor Kasim Reed’s administration from 2010 to 2013. Bickers also served a decade on the Atlanta school board in the 1990s and early 2000s.

Bickers, a pastor, held positions in construction and formerly served as a vice president operations at E.R. Mitchell Company, one of Mitchell’s contracting companies, according to a resolution honoring her in 2012 at the state Capitol. She also bought property from Mitchell in the city of Atlanta and in Decatur in recent years.

Since leaving the Atlanta Board of Education in 2003 to run, unsuccessfully, for Fulton County Commission chair, Bickers has worked as a consultant for politicians in Atlanta and outside Georgia. In 2014, Bickers was credited with helping mobilize African American voters in Mississippi to support Republican Thad Cochran in a tough re-election campaign to the U.S. Senate.

In late 2009, Bickers played a key get-out-the-vote role in Kasim Reed’s upset runoff victory in the Atlanta mayoral race.

After Reed won, Bickers went to work for the city, reporting directly to Reed as director of human services, according to city records. Bickers left the city in early 2013 after Channel 2 uncovered that she failed to properly disclose income earned from her consulting business while working for City Hall.

On Thursday, Reed clarified that Bickers reported to his chief of staff, and said the document on which she claimed to report directly to the mayor was incorrect.

The mayor’s spokeswoman declined to comment about Bickers or her connection to the mayor’s office on Wednesday, but reiterated that the city is cooperating with federal investigators.

“Any allegation that the city’s procurement process has been compromised in any way undermines the public’s trust in government,” said Anne Torres, the mayor’s spokeswoman. “Accordingly, we will not rest until this case is fully resolved and justice has been served.”

Apart from Mitchell, the U.S. Attorney’s Office has not named anyone else in connection with the bribery investigation.

Numerous attempts to reach Bickers in recent days by the AJC and Channel 2 have not been successful.

The AJC and Channel 2 first reported last week on the apparent attempt in September 2015 to intimidate Mitchell, who must cooperate with federal investigators in the continuing probe and testify if more charges are filed.

Mitchell was already talking to federal investigators when the incident with the dead rats and brick occurred, the AJC and Channel 2 first reported on Thursday.

The FBI tracked down Barnes, who admitted to damaging Mitchell’s home, according to a warrant and other information obtained by Channel 2. The warrant said Barnes cooperated with federal investigators.

Barnes was arrested in the case in November and charged with criminal damage to property, a felony, after federal investigators turned him over to Atlanta Police.

Barnes agreed not to have contact with Mitchell as a condition of his release on bond.

Barnes twice hung up on an AJC reporter Wednesday and did not respond to a subsequent message. The AJC could not locate an attorney for him.

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