Not long after Cliffard Daniel Whitby shuffled into a federal courtroom in downtown Macon on Friday afternoon, he caught his wife’s eye in the front row.
That morning, Whitby had been arrested after being accused in a bribery case that allegedly involves hundreds of thousands of dollars in payments to ex-Bibb County schools Superintendent Romain Dallemand.
Whitby, who is chairman of the Macon-Bibb County Industrial Authority, had on a granite-gray sport coat, a white shirt and dark slacks. His hands and feet were shackled as he was led in behind an accused meth dealer. As Whitby sat to wait his turn for a bond hearing, his wife looked his way and blew him a kiss.
Whitby, rocking slowly in a chair, pursed his lips and gazed at the ceiling.
Barely 48 hours earlier, at a ceremony to announce the coming of a new tissue factory and, with it, 200 or so jobs, Whitby had introduced Georgia’s governor and the U.S. commerce secretary to a crowd of area movers and shakers.
When it came his turn before the judge, Whitby waived a formal reading of the 18-page indictment. The accusation, in essence, says he paid off a public official in exchange for the financial gain of his business ventures. Even though he waived the reading, it still took more than five minutes for prosecutor Beth Howard to read a summary of the charges.
After that, U.S. Magistrate Charles H. Weigle informed Whitby that he was presumed innocent of the charges, saying, “The government does have to prove each of those counts beyond a reasonable doubt.”
After the judge reminded Whitby of his rights, Whitby pleaded not guilty.
Howard, the prosecutor, speaking on behalf of the government, suggested a $15,000 bond.
“This is a serious offense involving several counts of bribery of a local government official,” she said. “The total offer bribed being roughly $1 million ... and a little over $460,000 being paid in bribes to Romain Dallemand.”
Whitby’s lawyer, Nicholas A. Lotito, of Atlanta, told the judge that his client “has spent his entire life in Macon. He has three daughters that he is raising here.
“We were hoping these charges would never come,” Lotito went on. “We were generally aware of the investigation. ... We’re gonna defend these charges vigorously. He pled not guilty and I intend to make sure that he stays not guilty.”
The judge set bond at $15,000.
Outside the courtroom, Lotito spoke well of his locally high-profile client.
“He has done so many things to benefit this community,” Lotito said. “I’m just very disappointed that these charges were even brought. ... In the end, I expect him to be vindicated.”
Lotito said Friday had been “a tough day” for Whitby.
“He’s brought industry here. He’s just done so many great things. His motives are good,” Lotito said. “This nonsense. ... There’s no bribery.”
Within half an hour of the hearing, Whitby walked out of the courthouse a free man to await trial.
Asked if he had any remarks as he made his way to a black Range Rover parked outside, Whitby, his wife at his side and a cup of water in his hand, told The Telegraph, “I think my attorney has already addressed the charges. ... And we’ll be discussing it further later.”