Atlanta corruption hits home

The U.S. Attorney’s Office in Atlanta began its first salvo in an ongoing “pay to play” bribery investigation involving sweetheart contracts from the city of Atlanta mayor’s office. One contractor pled guilty to paying more than a million dollars in bribes to receive $7 million in snow removal contracts from the city. Another contractor was charged with paying $175,000 in bribes in return for $10 million in city landscaping contracts.

U.S. Attorney John A. Horn said the bribes “destroy public confidence in government. When taxpayer funds are used to fund expensive government construction projects, the public expects that the process is fair. When the process isn’t fair, it costs taxpayers more.”

Mitzi Bickers, a political consultant with close ties to Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed, is identified in documents released by Atlanta city government Thursday as being part of the federal investigation. In addition, Bickers’ former chief financial officer was arrested for throwing bricks through the window of the contractor who later confessed. “Keep your mouth shut” was written on the side of the brick. Later dead rats showed up on the contractor’s yard.

This is the same Mitzi Bickers who organized  fund-raisers for Jackson Mayor Tony Yarber and personally donated $10,000 to his campaign. The Northside Sun reported last year these fund-raisers were never disclosed by the mayor, in violation of our state campaign finance laws. Sexual harassment lawsuits filed against our mayor claim one these fund-raisers featured strippers dressed only in body paint. "Ms. Bickers had arranged for a woman to have a sexual relationship with Defendant Yarber," one suit states. Bickers and Yarber are defending these allegations.

This is the same Mitzi Bickers who has been involved with several contractors doing business with our city. As reported by the Sun, many of these firms have little prior operating record. Bickers owns Mississippi Developers LLC, which the Jackson Redevelopment Authority has chosen to help construct the downtown convention center hotel. The company formed in June of 2015 but failed to file its annual report, so its current status is "intent to dissolve."

The Northside Sun over the past year has reported numerous instances of bid manipulation by city officials. These patterns have a remarkable resemblance to the events transpiring in Atlanta. The FBI has been investigating these allegations but unlike Atlanta nothing has been done. Why not?

U.S. Attorney Greg Davis has failed to convene a grand jury to assess the FBI evidence and potentially file charges. Why not? Jim Hood, Mississippi attorney general, has a Public Integrity Division to investigate government corruption. They have done nothing. Why not?

Where is Hinds County District Attorney Robert Shuler Smith, himself recently dodging a bullet with a jury hung over his own corruption charges? Instead of investigating millions in contract manipulation, Smith spends all his energy prosecuting Downtown Jackson Partners executive director Ben Allen for embezzlement even though Allen’s board testified to authorizing all the expenditures. After a lengthy and expensive trial, Allen was acquitted on nine of the 10 charges. The only charge that stuck involved some minuscule cell phone usage by Allen’s wife. If there is any justice in our state, that charge will be overturned on appeal.

We congratulate U.S. Attorney John Horn for taking action in Atlanta. We hope that in the coming months, Mississippi will see a new United States attorney with the courage and zeal to thoroughly investigate the corruption threatening the city of Jackson and the state of Mississippi.

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