What you need to know about the bribery court case involving Bibb schools
Romain Dallemand was back in Macon on Thursday. This time to fess up.
The former superintendent of Bibb County’s public schools, whose embattled 28-month tenure was mired in controversy, took the stand in federal court to begin explaining an alleged conspiracy of monetary malfeasance that he himself claims to have had a heavy hand in.
If the government’s allegations against two men accused of bribing him are to be believed, Dallemand’s misdeeds earned him nearly $500,000 in kickbacks.
Dallemand, who turned 50 in July, was superintendent here from early 2011 until mid-2013. His salary was $230,000. After his departure from Macon roughly five years ago, he appears to have fallen on financial hard times. Thursday he testified that in recent years, living in Naples on Florida’s Gulf Coast, he has worked at Sears and been an Uber driver.
In a dark suit and spectacles, Dallemand, whose much-heralded arrival as schools’ chief soon foundered amid public outcry and political tumult, testified for an hour and a half.
First he recalled how, on a December morning in 2016, a pair of federal agents knocked on his door. The agents, from the FBI and IRS, had scoured his bank records and found income that had gone unreported on his tax returns.
Confronted with the findings, Dallemand has since, in exchange for his testimony against those accused of conspiring to bribe him and launder money, pleaded guilty to filing a false tax return.
Thursday, under direct examination by assistant U.S. attorney Elizabeth S. Howard, Dallemand explained his reasoning for cooperating with the feds.
“As I told the agents,” Dallemand said, “the information was in black and white, and there was no denying it.”
Attorneys for the defendants have in recent days, in their opening statements Tuesday and in their examination of an FBI agent since, seized on how Dallemand’s statements to investigators have changed. And not just once, but numerous times until he eventually agreed to cooperate and to, as one defense lawyer put it, conjure up a bribery scenario to “save his own skin.”
The alleged conspiracy involves Cliffard D. Whitby, a 55-year-old Macon businessman who was executive director of the Macon Promise Neighborhood initiative, a federally-backed educational and socioeconomic lifeline around which the government’s case is centered.
Bribery and money-laundering accusations are also aimed at Harold M. Knowles, 71, an acquaintance of Dallemand’s and a well-known Tallahassee lawyer whose construction firm had a business connection with Bibb schools.
Whitby is accused of helping funnel a $100,000 check through Knowles’ law firm to pay off Dallemand in exchange for Dallemand influencing the school board to financially further the Promise Neighborhood, which prosecutors contend would benefit Whitby’s business ventures.
Dallemand may well be on the witness stand until early next week. Trial days last from 8 a.m. until 2 in the afternoon, with only brief breaks.
But the proceedings have moved slowly.
Whitby has a trio of lawyers. Knowles has two. And a pair of entities with ties to Whitby — Positiventures Initiative, LLC, and the Central Georgia Partnership for Individual and Community Development, which are also defendants in the case — are each represented by an attorney.
Prosecutors are still expected to play recordings Dallemand made of him talking to Whitby by phone and in person.
On Thursday, Dallemand testified about a conversation he had with Whitby on a trip to a conference in Washington, D.C., in March 2012. Prosecutors have said Whitby was seeking Dallemand’s backing of the Promise Neighborhood venture and its offshoots.
On the stand, Dallemand said Whitby proposed a deal in which Dallemand, in lieu of his support, would receive $100,000 if the school board leased a building, the former Ballard-Hudson Middle School, which Whitby was linked to.
Dallemand said a resolution for the lease, which the school board approved in 2012, had been drafted by one of Whitby’s lawyers, and that the lease’s price tag — $1 million a year for 10 years — would net Dallemand 10 percent each year for the life of the decade-long lease.
“Did you believe,” prosecutor Howard asked Dallemand, “that you would get anything as a result of this lease being signed?”
“Yes,” Dallemand replied.
“What was that?” Howard said.
“A hundred thousand dollars,” Dallemand said.
Testimony resumes Friday at 8 a.m.