Mitzi Bickers – a top Atlanta political operative, one-time City Hall official and lesbian pastor – is at the center of a growing federal bribery investigation that has already ensnared two of her business partners.
It's a very public fall from political grace for Bickers, a former Atlanta School Board president who ran as an openly LGBT candidate during her unsuccessful run in 2003 for Fulton County Commission chair.
But since that race, Bickers turned to political consulting in several states and worked to turn out voters for Republicans and Democrats. That work included helping push Mayor Kasim Reed across the finish to win his first term as mayor in a 2009 runoff, LGBT candidates in Atlanta and a Republican senator in Mississippi.
Reed later hired Bickers and she worked as the city's human services director from 2010 to 2013 before leaving over a flap concerning a financial disclosure form. She followed that public service with work in the private sector – efforts that federal prosecutors are now examining.
Bickers was named in a federal subpoena served to Atlanta City Hall. When Mayor Kasim Reed's administration made public more than 1.4 million pages of documents related to that last week, some 300 boxes of the papers related to Bickers, her companies and consulting clients, according to the AJC.
There were at least 310 filing boxes stuffed full of information about Bickers, her companies, and companies for which she consulted.
The timing of the subpoena suggests that investigators were interested in Bickers before they began looking at the two Atlanta contractors who have already been named in the investigation.
Since prosecutors issued the subpoena for the documents, they've charged two city contractors – Elvin “E.R.” Mitchell Jr. and Charles P. Richards Jr. Mitchell has pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit bribery and launder money; Richards is expected to plead guilty to similar charges on Feb. 16. Prosecutors have said the two men gave $1.2 million in bribes to an unnamed third person. Bickers was a vice president in one of Mitchell's companies.
On Thursday, Reed put political distance between himself and Bickers. Via the AJC:
“Regarding Ms. Bickers tenure … she worked on my campaign and helped get me elected mayor,” Reed said at Thursday’s press conference before the documents were released. “That’s true and well known.
“She was given a job between 2010 and 2013 in the office of human services, that’s not an operational department in the city of Atlanta. I thought her background as a pastor made it an appropriate position for her.”
Until the bribery investigation, Bickers kept a low public profile. Via the AJC:
Bickers may not be well-known to the public now, but she has been a star to local and state politicians for several years, and served for 10 years on the Atlanta Board of Education.
A Henry County resident, Bickers’ consulting team primarily worked on Reed’s behalf in southwest Atlanta with sound trucks, robocalls and door-to-door canvassers, she told the AJC at the time. She acknowledged higher turnout in southwest Atlanta helped Reed defeat Norwood: “The hardest vote to turn out is generally the black vote.”
Bickers has worked throughout the region, for a range of generally Democratic Party politicians from Roy Barnes’ 2010 gubernatorial campaign, to Clayton County Sheriff Victor Hill’s 2012 win, and Fulton County Superior Court Judge Craig Schwall’s 2014 race, according to state political disclosures.
She is currently paid $37,708 a year as a corrections officer for the Clayton County Sheriff’s Office. It is believed Bickers works as a chaplain at the jail. But Senior Chaplain Stan Owen declined to comment when asked if Bickers worked in his chaplaincy program, which ministers to both corrections officers and inmates.
In 2014, Bickers crossed the state line and was paid tens of thousands of dollars to help Republican Thad Cochran get re-elected in a bitter U.S. Senate race in Mississippi, according to campaign disclosure statements.
Also in 2014, Bickers helped get Tony Yarber elected as mayor of Jackson, Miss.
In 2012, the Georgia House passed a resolution praising Bickers – a pastor at Emmanuel Baptist Church where he father once ministered – for her "efficient, effective, unselfish, and dedicated public service and many contributions to the State of Georgia."
Also in 2012, Bickers and her Pirouette Companies was at the center of an ethics complaint over $20,000 in payments from a judicial candidate. Via the Georgia Voice:
Stadtlander said when he filed the complaint on July 25 that he didn’t understand why a judicial candidate was apparently paying close to $20,000 to a dance company that offers classes on strip teasing and pole dancing.
The company also offers boot camps and personal fitness training. The website for the dance company was taken down shortly after the ethics complaint was filed and a new website for “Pirouette Companies” is under construction.
A lawsuit filed last year in Jackson, Miss., includes allegations that Bickers arranged events and hosted campaign parties in her suburban Atlanta home that included strippers. Via the Clarion-Ledger:
The suit also paints a picture of the parties held by Atlanta businesswoman Mitzi Bickers for Yarber in late 2014. "Ms. Bickers had arranged for a woman to have a sexual relationship with Defendant Yarber," the suit states.
The filing alleges that on one of these trips, the mayor visited a strip club "where Ms. Bickers paid for everything" and that Bracey was required to "watch the door where Mayor Yarber and one of the strippers went in to be alone."
The Clarion-Ledger has reported on fundraisers held at Bicker's home in Jonesboro, Georgia, that went unreported in Yarber's campaign finance reports. The suit states that "strippers wearing only body paint" greeted guests at her door.
"That's ridiculous," Bickers said. "We do regular fundraisers. I've never known a fundraiser where sex was solicited."
Bickers has declined to comment to Atlanta media outlets about the ongoing bribery investigation.
[photo via CBS 46]