Former DISD chief of staff pleads not guilty in Atlanta bribe allegations

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by KATE BRUMBACK

Associated Press

Posted on June 4, 2013 at 6:34 PM

ATLANTA (AP) — A former chief information officer for Atlanta's public school system accused of accepting bribes in exchange for his influence in awarding a technology contract pleaded not guilty on Tuesday.

Jerome Oberlton entered the plea in federal court in Atlanta, where a U.S. grand jury last week handed down a seven-count indictment against him. The charges include conspiracy, conspiracy under color of official right, money laundering conspiracy, mail fraud, wire fraud and bribery.

Oberlton served as chief information officer for Atlanta's schools system from 2004 to 2007. He joined the Dallas school district in January and was working as chief of staff. He resigned from the Texas job last week after informing the superintendent of the investigation.

Another man, Mahendra Patel, is accused in the indictment of having received kickbacks. He's charged with conspiracy, conspiracy under color of official right, money laundering conspiracy and mail fraud. He also entered a not guilty plea Tuesday.

The indictment alleges the two men accepted $60,000 in kickbacks from an information technology company that isn't named in the indictment. The company won a data warehousing contract worth $780,000 from the school district.

"As the Chief Information Officer for APS, Oberlton was entrusted with overseeing a program designed to centralize student data," U.S. Attorney Sally Quillian Yates said in a statement.  "Rather than ensuring that vendors were selected based upon what was best for the school system. the defendants are charged with using Oberlton's public position to line their private pockets."

Prosecutors said Oberlton created two companies to hide the kickbacks and funneled the payments through the shell companies. He hid his ownership of those companies from the school system. The payments to Patel were disguised as sales commissions for non-existent consulting work, prosecutors said.

A federal magistrate judge approved a $25,000 unsecured bond for each of the men and ordered them to surrender their passports and limit their travel to certain geographic areas as conditions of release.

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