DALLAS –– A former Dallas Independent School District chief of staff formally pled guilty in federal court Wednesday to one count of conspiracy to commit fraud and accept bribes stemming from a 2007 kickback scandal in Atlanta.
Jerome Oberlton, 48, filed a guilty plea for one of the 10 charges against him in Judge Thomas W. Thrash, Jr.’s U.S. District Court during a hearing Wednesday morning. Under a plea agreement reached with federal prosecutors, Oberlton faces a potential 41 months in prison. A judge must agree to that plea agreement, which we've posted here. A hearing for that is set for March, according to court records.
If the judge tosses the agreement, Oberlton could face up to five years in prison and a $250,000 fine.
Oberlton was indicted in May and was also facing charges that included conspiracy, conspiracy under color of official right, money laundering conspiracy, mail fraud, wire fraud and bribery.
Dallas ISD Superintendent Mike Miles hired Oberlton in January 2013 and asked for his resignation on May 28, the day he was indicted.
In Jan. 2007, when Oberlton was a chief information officer for Atlanta’s public school system, he and a friend, Mehendra Patel, were accused of steering a $780,000 computer project to a Detroit-based technology company that paid them $60,000 in kickbacks.
The indictment alleges the two men created shell companies to hide the money. Patel hid his payments under the guise of consultant work done for the sham companies.
Oberlton, says the feds, was in charge of contracting a vendor to centralize student data for Atlanta Public Schools.
“Rather than ensuring that venders 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,” said United States Attorney Sally Yates in June when the two were arraigned.
Patel pled guilty to conspiring with Oberlton in August. The former Dallas ISD chief of staff initially pled not guilty and his case was to go to trial next week.
At the time of his resignation, Miles said he was “shocked” by the federal allegations against his chief of staff. But Oberlton came into the school district amid other controversies. In 2011, when he was the head of the Baltimore public school system’s Information Technology Department, The Baltimore Sun discovered he spent $250,000 on renovating his basement office.
That ate up half the $500,000 allotted for renovations at city school headquarters. Oberlton later called this an error in judgment, News 8 reported in May. Miles said then that the district “probably did a more thorough background check on Jerome than we did on anyone else.”
“We investigated it and we were satisfied with the explanation from the [Baltimore] superintendent," Miles told News 8, adding that he received an e-mail from the Baltimore chief expressing shock at Oberlton’s resignation.