Former Dallas ISD Chief of Staff Jerome Oberlton Accused of Taking in Bribes in Atlanta

When Dallas ISD chief of staff told Superintendent Mike Miles last week that he was facing federal criminal charges, he wasn't kidding. The indictment, which stems from his three-year tenure as chief information officer at the Atlanta Public School System, was unsealed Monday.

The scheme detailed by court documents isn't terribly complicated. Prosecutors allege that Oberlton and another man, Mahendra Patel, took more than $60,000 in bribes from a technology company in exchange for awarding a $700,000 data warehousing contract.

The whole thing started in April 2006, when, according to the indictment, Oberlton and Patel traveled to Detroit to meet with two unnamed officials (referred to in the indictment as "co-conspirators") with a technology company there.

The exact nature of that particular conversation prosecutors leave to the imagination. Suffice to say that, when it came time for Atlanta schools to seek bids for the data warehousing deal nine months later, there was an open line of communication for Patel, who was not a district employee, to suggest that slipping a bit of cash might get the company's proposal a favorable look. Sure enough, after signing a $380,000 deal with an Oberlton-owned company called Global Technology Partners, the Detroit firm won the contract.

Patel, meanwhile, entered into a sham consulting gig with the firm, agreeing to take a 3.9-percent commission on the deal. (According to the Morning News, Patel's lawyer has said his client worked as an independent contractor for Detroit-based Computech Corp. which, presumably, is the company referenced in the indictment.)

The actual payments came several months later. Two days after Oberlton's August 2007 departure to take over the technology department at Baltimore Public Schools, he allegedly billed the Detroit firm for $24,000, which was paid. When a second, $55,000 invoice, yielded merely $9,000, prosecutors say he sent the company a letter "complaining he had not been properly compensated." He subsequently received two installments of about $21,000.

The indictment notes in passing that such kickbacks violated the Atlanta school district's conflict of interest policy. More to the point, they also violate a number of federal laws, hence the indictment. Oberlton and Patel are each charged with seven counts in all, including conspiracy, money laundering, mail fraud, wire fraud, and bribery.

The whole thing makes Oberlton's $250,000 renovation of his executive suite in Baltimore look completely ethical. In any case, it's probably best that Oberlton is no longer with DISD.

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Eric Nicholson
Contact: Eric Nicholson