The criminal saga surrounding Romain Dallemand, the controversial, domineering and disgraced ex-superintendent of Bibb County’s public schools, drew to a close in a federal courtroom here Thursday.
Dallemand’s sentencing to eight months in prison and a restitution payment of nearly $300,000 comes in the wake of his 2017 guilty plea to a lone tax-evasion charge which stems from a tax-filing transgression half a decade earlier. He had faced a maximum of three years behind bars.
Thursday’s proceeding inside this city’s palm tree-flanked U.S. District Courthouse proved a largely anticlimactic ending to the most notorious case of alleged public corruption in Macon’s recent history.
Before his fall from grace, Dallemand earned a salary well into the six figures as schools’ chief.
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He told Judge Sheri Polster Chappell that he now makes $800 a month working at a convenience store.
Dressed in a navy suit with a white shirt and a red tie with a paisley swirl, the bespectacled, dapper Dallemand spoke extensively of his mistakes during the morning’s 90-minute sentencing hearing. Though he has submitted hundreds of job applications, he said he can’t find better work because few places hire convicted felons. His lifestyle has shrunk to nothing, he said, noting his $800 monthly convenience store job.
Dallemand, his hair graying at the temples, said, “This is not living at all. It’s tough. I accept it as part of my punishment — and that’s what I have to do to survive.”
Federal prosecutors had contended that Dallemand received roughly $460,000 in bribe payments from people with business interests connected to the school system. He took the stand in October as the government’s key witness. But despite prosecutors’ contentions and Dallemand’s own admissions to accepting bribes around 2012 and later, jurors acquitted the two men accused of paying him off.
In the end it seems that, for jurors at least, Dallemand was not a man to be believed. His recollections to investigators of when the bribes happened and whether they were bribes at all evolved over time. Defense attorneys pounced on the pretrial inconsistencies.
Though contrite at times while on the witness stand in October, Dallemand on other occasions exuded an air of arrogance. Now as the lone convicted party linked to the alleged bribery scandal, he was ordered to report to prison on April 29.
In sentencing Dallemand, Judge Polster Chappell said Dallemand had been looked up to by schoolchildren and that he had let them down as a role model, betraying the trust “that they had in you.”
As an outsider who took Macon by storm in 2011, Dallemand, with his brusque, imperious manner, almost immediately rubbed some locals the wrong way. His heralded aim to have schoolchildren learn Mandarin was, in some quarters, met with staunch skepticism.
His strategic plan — dubbed the Macon Miracle and outlined in a 26-page booklet at a campaign rally of an unveiling at the Macon Coliseum — in hindsight seems more sham than substance.
At the October trial of Macon businessman Cliffard D. Whitby and prominent north Florida attorney Harold M. Knowles — the men accused of bribing Dallemand — a Macon preacher testified that Dallemand once spoke of himself in Biblical terms. The preacher recalled that Dallemand confided in him and said, “I just believe God sent me here to be our Moses.”
Dallemand was schools’ boss for 28 months, beginning in February 2011.
In the wake of that tumultuous span, the specter of his perceived shadiness against the backdrop of a struggling school system became an easy mark for his critics.
Since his fall from grace, Dallemand has said he worked at Sears and as an Uber driver. In a secret recording Dallemand made while wearing a wire for the feds during an alleged-bribe payoff meeting at a Denny’s restaurant, Dallemand can be heard bemoaning his humiliating descent.
“My career is (expletive). ... You want to know what I’m doing for a living?” he said. “Driving Uber. Driving (expletive) Uber.”
Dallemand, now 50, moved to Naples on south Florida’s Gulf Coast after his $230,000-a-year contract as school superintendent was bought out in mid-2013 . It was there that he lied on the tax return he submitted for 2012, a year when, according to prosecutors, he failed to report $100,000 in under-the-table income.
Federal authorities have said that $100,000 was a bribe meant to influence him as superintendent to further efforts related to the Macon Promise Neighborhood. The authorities said Dallemand’s illicit windfall was the first of what were to be $100,000 payoffs for 10 years in return for his and the Bibb school system’s “continued support” of the Promise Neighborhood.
At Thursday’s hearing, Dalllemand said he was proud of what he had begun in the Macon schools, making them “more vibrant.”
He said he was on the rise professionally until he “made this terrible mistake for which I will forever pay for.”
Dallemand said he has “spent countless nights thinking about my life. ... And I feel terrible for what I’ve done and what I’m putting my family through.” He added that “right now life is a shamble of mess” and that he regretted doing wrong, referring to prosecutors’ contentions that he took bribes.
“I could,” he said, “have walked away” and turned his back on the supposed easy money.
In August 2017, Dallemand pleaded guilty to tax evasion for filing that false tax return for 2012 in which he under-reported his income and over-reported itemized deductions.
His guilty plea to the false tax filing came in exchange for his extensive cooperation with the FBI and Internal Revenue Service in their probe of alleged corruption involving the Bibb schools.
Portrayed by prosecutors as an on-the-take public servant, Dallemand over the past seven months took the stand in three criminal trials with ties to his administration. Dallemand, in part due to his cooperation, was not charged in those cases.
Of the four men accused of wrongdoing tied to the schools, the only two who were convicted ran afoul of the law for defrauding the school system in $3.7-million computer deal.
Thursday’s hearing, though, is far from the end of Dallemand’s legal troubles. He is still part of a civil lawsuit being brought by the Bibb school system to recoup some of the funds it claims to have lost.
Before court Thursday morning, Dallemand was greeted by a woman in blue jeans with some papers in her hand. The woman, a process server, spoke to Dallemand and handed over a subpoena.
“What’s this,” he said, accepting a notice ordering him to appear for a deposition next month.
The plaintiff in the matter? His former employer: the Bibb County schools.
Information from Telegraph archives was used in this report.