'This case is about bribes:' Trial begins for 2 accused in Bibb superintendent bribery
MACON, Ga. -- Opening statements began Tuesday morning in the bribery and money laundering case against Cliffard Whitby and Harold Knowles involving former Bibb Schools Superintendent Romain Dallemand in 2012.
Federal prosecutor Beth Howard outlined the list of people and companies involved, stating, "this case is about bribes."
Attorney Nick Lotito, representing the former Macon-Bibb Industrial Authority Chairman Whitby, said, "The government brought these charges without even talking to Whitby." He insists there were no bribes or corruption.
Howard first discussed Whitby's Macon Promise Neighborhood (MPN) -- the main company involved in this case. She said as part of MPN's plan to revitalize four struggling schools, Whitby sought $250,000 from the district for each school. This amounts to the 10-year/$10 million plan mentioned in the indictment.
Howard added that Dallemand wasn't initially supportive of the MPN initiative in early 2011. However, Howard claims that after the $100,000 bribe from Whitby and Knowles, Dallemand wanted to financially support MPN.
Prosecution plans to have Dallemand testify, as he took a plea deal in a previous case requiring his cooperation.
She went on to say the Bibb School Board didn't know they were giving money -- and instead just thought they were to provide support to the views of MPN. But Bibb Schools leased back the old Ballard Hudson building from Whitby's non-profit (Central Georgia Partnership for Individual and Community Development, PICD) and then also purchased the Promise Center from PICD for $8.5 million.
Howard then explained the relationship between Whitby and Knowles -- an attorney from Tallahassee who is accused as acting as the middle man in this case.
She says they met at a conference where Knowles was representing his company Pinnacle Construction Support Group. Howard claims Knowles eventually offered stock in Pinnacle to Dallemand if the Bibb School District used his company for construction projects.
Defense Attorney Lotito claims Dallemand is a "thief and a conman," "lies and changes his stories" and created the bribe theory to "save his own skin."
Dallemand pleaded guilty to filing a false tax return in 2012 that failed to report a $100,000 payment that was meant to influence him. However, Lotito says the $100,000 was given to Dallemand to invest in a school being built in Haiti -- not as a bribe.
Lotito added there are documents showing Dallemand supported Whitby and MPN before claiming years later that he was bribed.
When it comes to the Ballard Hudson purchase and sale, Lotito said Whitby wanted to fix it up and "had a vision." He then created the non-profit PCID to buy the building, before leasing it to Bibb Schools.
Jimmy Judkins, representing Knowles, says Knowles was an easy target for Dallemand. He added that Knowles simply wanted to provide educational opportunities to blighted areas in Macon.
Whitby, 54, and Knowles, 69, were indicted in Aug. 2017 for:
- one count of conspiracy to pay a bribe to an agent of an organization receiving federal funds
- one count of conspiracy to launder the proceeds of unlawful activity
- five counts of paying a bribe to an agent of an organization receiving federal funds
Knowles also faces on additional charge of offering to pay a bribe to an agent of an organization receiving federal funds.
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