“It seems rather unlikely, but it’s a possibility,” Richards said.
Richards also made a direct payment to Bickers’ companies totaling $15,000 which he called “marketing money”, but Bickers did not work for Richards’ company. Assistant U.S. Attorney Jeffrey Davis asked Richards if Bickers had ever called him to ask why he made those payments or to return the funds. Richards replied, “No”.
The questioning came Friday on the second day of testimony as federal prosecutors try to argue that Bickers, pastor of Emmanuel Baptist Church of Atlanta and political operative behind former mayor Kasim Reed’s first term, was a central player in the corruption investigation that rocked City Hall during Reed’s second term.
Prosecutors allege Bickers agreed $2 million in bribes they allege they received through a network of businesses and a series of banking transactions.
Here are some key developments during the first two days of testimony in a trial that is expected to last at least two weeks:
Richards, speaking for the first time on Thursday afternoon, said he began working with Mitchell in late 2009 on the sidewalk contract that would eventually play a role in his imprisonment.
That initial $750,000 sidewalk contract grew to over $5 million in business through 2015, when Mitchell, who acted as a minority contractor on the projects, spearheaded change orders for Richards.
Prosecutors brought Richards back on Friday during which the contractor alleged that in late 2010 Mitchell was awarded a project for eight Atlanta bridges in need of repairs that the city had planned to lease. The advance notice — which Mitchell said came from Bickers — helped Richards assess each deck and determine their repair needs ahead of competitors.
His company was chosen to repair bridges on Martin Luther King Jr. Drive in downtown Atlanta and on Park Drive in Piedmont Park. Richards alleged Mitchell asked him to inflate repair costs — he billed the city about $750,000, nearly double his original estimate — so Mitchell and Bickers could get their share.
Prosecutors also called Deidre Verdier, a former girlfriend of Bickers who almost dated in 2011, who claimed the pastor paid most things in cash, including an expensive trip to Las Vegas, a plane ticket in first class, meals and clothing.
Verdier said she met Mitchell and on one occasion he brought what she described as a “doctor’s bag” loaded with $100 bills tied with bank tape to Bickers’ home. She said Bickers asked her to take some of the money and stuff it into a dresser in a bedroom.
When asked why Bickers didn’t want her to put him in the bank, Verdier replied, “(Bickers) said she didn’t want to. report the IRS.”
In cross-examination, defense attorney Marissa Goldberg made Verdier admit that she had lied in her past. But Verdier said lying had been a matter of survival in her upbringing and she credited Bickers with turning her life around and restoring relations with her mother.