Atlanta contractors get prison time in contract bribery case
Two Atlanta contractors were sentenced to prison Tuesday as part of an ongoing federal investigation into a pay-to-play scheme for city contracts.
U.S. District Judge Steve Jones sentenced Elvin R. Mitchell Jr., of Atlanta, to serve five years and pay more than $1.12 million in restitution. Mitchell, 63, pleaded guilty in January to a conspiratorial bribery and money laundering charge.
Jones also sentenced Charles P. Richards Jr., of Tucker, to serve two years and three months in prison and pay $193,000 in restitution. Richards, 65, pleaded guilty in February to a conspiratorial bribery charge.
When imposing the sentences, Jones told each man that their actions had damaged the trust and confidence of the public, cracking the foundation of government.
Prosecutors have said Mitchell paid more than $1 million to someone in exchange for city construction contracts, and that he believed some of the money would be paid to one or more unnamed city officials with influence over the contracting process. He also laundered money received from the city by attempting to conceal its source and trying to evade federal currency transaction reporting requirements, prosecutors have said.
Federal prosecutors have not said who Richards and Mitchell paid, but both men have cooperated with investigators.
"I sincerely apologize to you, this court and this community for my wrongdoings," Mitchell told the judge, adding that he plans to continue cooperating.
Mitchell's attorney, Craig Gillen, didn't call character witnesses and did not ask for a sentence lower than the five years the government requested. He said they plan to ask the court to reduce Mitchell's sentence as his cooperation with the government continues.
Gillen told reporters after Mitchell's hearing that his client is willing to testify against others.
Richards paid $193,000 to someone in exchange for city contracts, also believing some of the money would go to one or more city officials, prosecutors have said.
Richards' attorney Lynne Borsuk asked the judge to consider imposing a sentence of a year and a half.
Richards and Mitchell inherited construction companies from their fathers, who were close friends, and that friendship continued in the younger generation. Mitchell approached Richards during the recession, when the construction industry was slumping badly, about participating in the pay-to-play scheme, Borsuk said. Against his better judgment, Richards agreed, to help his friend and benefit his own company, she said. But Mitchell was the one with who came up with the scheme and had the contacts, she said.
Borsuk described Richards' commitment to his community, family and friends, providing many examples of selfless good deeds. She called six witnesses — Richards' friends and professional contacts — to testify about what a good person he is.
Richards told the judge that he feels ashamed and is deeply apologetic. The judge asked why he didn't simply refuse when Mitchell approached him.
"I don't know. I had had opportunities to say no, and I didn't," Richards said. "I should have. I wish I had."
Prosecutor Jeffrey Davis said the government recognized Richards' good deeds in the community and took those into consideration when requesting a sentence of two years and three months, but he added, "Being a devoted father and a good samaritan doesn't land you in federal court."
Davis also noted that this was not a one-time thing: Richards had made 12 separate bribe payments that stretched well into the years after the recession.
"When contractors like Mitchell and Richards pay bribes to get public work, the public's confidence in the process is undermined and the price of that corruption is borne by the taxpayers," U.S. Attorney Byung J. "BJay" Pak said in a news release.
The city's former chief procurement officer, Adam L. Smith, pleaded guilty last month to conspiratorial bribery and is set to be sentenced in January. Prosecutors say Smith accepted bribes to give contracts to an unnamed vendor.