BY JOE KOVAC JR.
October 03, 2018 04:39 PM
Updated 2 hours 10 minutes ago
On Wednesday, the seventh day of testimony in the bribery and money laundering trial of Macon businessman Cliffard D. Whitby and Tallahassee, Florida, attorney Harold M. Knowles, federal prosecutors plodded ahead with their case.
The matter centers on an alleged criminal scheme to funnel hundreds of thousands of dollars from Bibb County’s public schools and into the pockets of accused co-conspirators.
The government was expected to rest its case Thursday. After defense lawyers call their own witnesses to the stand in the coming days, jurors could begin deliberating sometime toward the middle or end of next week.
The alleged wrongdoing revolves around the dysfunctional tenure of ex-Bibb County schools superintendent Romain Dallemand and the Macon Promise Neighborhood initiative, a multimillion-dollar, federal grant-supported collaboration with origins nearly a decade ago.
The plan involved more than 30 Macon organizations aimed at improving life and bolstering education in the city’s impoverished, crime-torn Unionville and Tindall Heights areas.
Dallemand, who is not charged in the alleged conspiracy in exchange for his guilty plea to a tax crime and for his testimony against Whitby and Knowles, finished testifying on Tuesday.
In his more than a dozen hours on the witness stand over parts of four days, Dallemand described helping channel school projects and business toward the interests of Whitby and Knowles.
At one point on Tuesday during cross-examination by one of Knowles’ lawyers, Dallemand spoke of a north Florida construction firm owned by Knowles.
“I was to give Harold construction contracts, (and) he would take care of me,” Dallemand said.
Knowles’ company, Pinnacle Construction, with Dallemand’s blessing, received a $3.25 million contract to sell the school system financial-management software.
Dallemand, who was schools chief from 2011 until 2013, later said he would “spend the rest of my life regretting” his role in the supposed scam. Prosecutors say that all told he received nearly $500,000 in kickbacks.
In court on Wednesday, the school system’s chief financial officer, Ron Collier, recalled a contentious episode with Dallemand in 2012. Citing improprieties, Collier refused to issue a $1 million check from the school district to the Promise Neighborhood effort and an entity with ties to Whitby.
Collier said he tried to explain that the school system didn’t have that kind of money just lying around. He said Dallemand “didn’t really want to hear my concerns, quite frankly.”
Collier was later demoted from Dallemand’s cabinet and moved to an office at a school system warehouse. Soon after, the $1 million check went through, and later, prosecutors contend, $100,000 made its way back to Dallemand.
Testimony resumes at 8 a.m. Thursday.