ATLANTA - Federal prosecutors plan to ask a judge to dismiss convictions for wire fraud and to resentence a former high-ranking Atlanta city official who is currently serving a 14-year prison sentence stemming from an investigation into corruption at City Hall, according to a court filing.
Mitzi Bickers, who served as director of human services under former Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed and who also worked as a pastor and political operative, was convicted on multiple charges last year. At her sentencing in September, U.S. District Steve Jones said the evidence in the case showed that she was involved in "a deliberate, calculated plan to cheat" Atlanta taxpayers.
Bickers has asked the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals to reverse her conviction and send the case back to the lower court for a new trial.
In a filing with the appeals court Friday, prosecutors rejected most of Bickers' arguments, but they did ask that the case be sent back to Jones for dismissal of four wire fraud charges and a limited resentencing. Since Bickers' trial, "the law regarding wire fraud has developed significantly," prosecutors wrote, citing recent U.S. Supreme Court rulings and decisions in other federal judicial circuits.
The wire fraud charges were based on Bickers' failure to report outside income on disclosure forms while working for the city of Atlanta. But recent court rulings "have rejected wire fraud prosecutions premised on lies which allow an employee to maintain employment and that are only indirectly related to the money or property obtained," prosecutors wrote in their filing Friday.
Bickers had been sentenced to serve 14 years for the wire fraud counts; 10 years for three money laundering counts; five years for conspiracy to commit bribery; and three years for filing false tax returns. Those sentences were all to be served at the same time, so eliminating the wire fraud counts will likely shorten the overall sentence.
Bickers' lawyers, Drew Findling and Marissa Goldberg, said in an emailed statement that "the government finally acknowledged what the defense has been arguing for years, that the four counts of wire fraud for which she was convicted were completely baseless and contrary to law." But they disagreed that dismissing those charges and resentencing her to a lesser sentence is sufficient.
"These convictions cannot just be wiped away and excised from the case," they said. "Resentencing alone would ignore the taint that permeated from these illegal convictions as well as the multitude of other issues that all necessitate a new trial."
Bickers was the first person to go to trial in the investigation into corruption during Reed's administration. Prosecutors said she used her influence to funnel roughly $17 million in business to city contractors Elvin "E.R." Mitchell Jr. and Charles P. Richards Jr. in exchange for more than $2.9 million in bribes for herself and others. Mitchell and Richards, as well as several others, had previously pleaded guilty and been sentenced to prison.
The corruption investigation became public in early 2017 when prosecutors accused Mitchell and Richards of conspiring to pay city officials to get contracts for emergency snow removal, sidewalk maintenance and bridge reconstruction from 2010 to 2015. Over the next several years, a half dozen others were charged, including high-ranking members of Reed's administration. Reed himself was never charged, but the investigation loomed over his final year in office and his unsuccessful 2021 campaign to return to the mayor's office.
A 2018 indictment against Bickers said she accepted bribes from Mitchell and Richards and failed to disclose that companies she controlled received payments from the pair while she worked for the city. She also did not declare the income to the IRS and falsified tax documents, the indictment said.
The "pay-to-play" scheme continued after Bickers stopped working for the city, prosecutors said. When a January 2014 snowstorm paralyzed Atlanta, she used her influence to secure a multimillion dollar contract for Mitchell's company, even though it "owned no snow-clearing or other equipment."
She used the money for big purchases like a lakefront home, a 2014 GMC Denali SUV and four Yamaha WaveRunners, and she spent lavishly on travel and personal expenses, prosecutors said.