City of Atlanta releases 1.476 million pages on E.R. Mitchell bribery case

By Maria Saporta

The old City Council Chambers at Atlanta City Hall were filled with 406 boxes containing 1.476 million documents related to the federal bribery investigation involving contractor E.R. Mitchell.

With a huge stack of boxes as a backdrop, Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed said the city was making the documents available to the media in an effort to be transparent. Information in the files had been redacted to protect the release of social security numbers and other personal data of people not directly related to the case.

“This investigation has not closed,” Reed said. “It is still and active investigation, and the city of Atlanta is cooperating.”

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City Attorney Cathy Hampton stands behind Mayor Kasim Reed as nearly 1.5 million documents are released Thursday. Baker Donelson attorney Ersy Castro looks on (Photo by Maria Saporta)

Reed said the documents in the room were the same that had been delivered to the U.S. Department of Justice except those files did not include the redactions. The mayor said the city provided the paper copies in the interest of time, but he added that the city was working to produce the files in an electronic form.

The federal investigation is looking into the contracts awarded to Mitchell, who has pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit bribery – providing more than $1 million to an unnamed individual in return for city construction contracts. The contracts were delivered from 2010 to August 2015.

During the press conference, the mayor was obviously touchy about the allegation of corruption in his administration.

“I have been mayor for seven years,” he said. “This whole matter has been upsetting to me.”

He said he wanted to deliver the documents to the press as quickly as he could because he has always supported sunshine laws. He did say the investigation had been going on for a significant period of time, at least six months.

When asked directly if he had been involved in the corruption case, Reed answered no.

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The City Council Chambers were filled with 406 boxes with documents (Photo by Maria Saporta)

“I have never taken a bribe,” he said. “I have given my life for this job. I have wanted to be mayor since I was 13 years old. If you think I would throw my life away for some short-term gratification, you don’t know me very well.”

Later, he acknowledged how difficult this case has been for City Hall.

“My reaction is deep frustration and anger,” he said. “In the last seven years we have accomplished extraordinary things as an administration. All I can do is be as transparent as I can be.”

He also pledged to fire anyone who may have been involved in the bribery scandal.

“We want everybody who did wrong to get punished,” Reed said. “Wherever there is a problem, we want the problem rooted out… If someone is stealing, we need to get to the bottom of it. Whenever we’ve had issues in the city of Atlanta, we have gotten people out of the building and terminated them quickly.”

The mayor said he would wait until the investigation is further along before he seeks to reform the city’s procurement process. He said he would not pass sweeping reform until he had a better idea of what happened.

“We have to deal with this very terrible situation,” the mayor said. “We are going to learn from this experience.”

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Areas of the room were labeled with the subject matter in the boxes (Photo by Maria Saporta)

Reed tried to put the charges in context. Since he’s been mayor, the city has done about $14 billion in business and had hundreds of procurements. This only involved a reported $1 million in bribes.

When asked about the possible impact on his legacy, Reed said: “I’m not worried about that right now.”

The mayor also said he has not been interviewed by the federal government, and that he has not retained defense counsel.

But he did say that as mayor, he is ultimately responsible for what happens in his administration.

“I feel responsibility about every aspect of our government,” Reed said. “I can’t express how frustrated and angry I am about what has happened. We have an enormous amount of work to do.”

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Two of Atlanta’s best investigative reporters – Dale Russell of WAGA and Richard Belcher of WSB-TV – talk over the files (Photo by Maria Saporta)

 

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Boxes line the back wall of the old City Council Chambers (Photo by Maria Saporta)

 

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Reporters anxiously await being able to look at the files being released Thursday (Photo by Maria Saporta)

 

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WXIA Reporter Valerie Hoff looks over documents refering to E.R, Mitchell’s contracts with the city of Atlanta (Photo by Maria Saporta)

 

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Mayor Kasim Reed answers questions from reporters as City Attorney Cathy Hampton (left) and Baker Donelson attorney Ersy Castro (right) listen (Photo by Maria Saporta)

Maria Saporta, Editor, is a longtime Atlanta business, civic and urban affairs journalist with a deep knowledge of our city, our region and state.  Since 2008, she has written a weekly column and news stories for the Atlanta Business Chronicle. Prior to that, she spent 27 years with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, becoming its business columnist in 1991. Maria received her Master’s degree in urban studies from Georgia State and her Bachelor’s degree in journalism from Boston University. Maria was born in Atlanta to European parents and has two young adult children.

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