MACON, Georgia (41NBC/WMGT) – The second day of trial in the bribery case involving former Macon-Bibb County Industrial Authority chairman, Cliffard Whitby and Tallahassee attorney, Harold Knowles, began with opening statements, Tuesday morning.
Prosecutor, Beth Howard, began by telling the jury, “This case is about bribes.” Howard explained to the jury that Romain Dallemand is a key witness in the case and has provided details on the alleged bribe.
Dallemand, former Bibb County School Superintendent, pleaded guilty to filing a false tax return and is awaiting sentencing. Howard says he is hoping to get lenience for his cooperation in this investigation.
The U.S. government, claims Whitby and Knowles bribed Dallemand with more than $400,000 to support the Macon Promise Neighborhood (MPN), an effort to help impoverished communities. Dallemand, who was the superintendent at the time, would receive $100,000 every year for 10 years, if the Bibb County School District (BCSD) paid MPN $1 million every year.
Howard wrapped up the prosecution’s opening statement by telling the jury there may be a lot of confusion as to what the BCSD’s role was with the MPN, but she asked the jury to remember this case is focused on bribing an agent receiving federal funds.
Whitby’s attorney, Nick Lotito, followed Howard’s statement by saying the money given to Dallemand was not a bribe nor reward money. Lotito claims it was made to be perfectly lawful. Lotito also told the jury that Dallemand has a lot of inconsistencies in his story and called him “a liar, a thief and an unkind man”. He continued by saying Dallemand left “a trail of disappoint and deceit”.
Lotito stated that Whitby did not go looking for the Macon Promise Neighborhood, the Mercer University initiative found him.
The government claims Whitby and Dallemand set up a business called Belhannes, so Whitby could pass the money to Dallemand. Lotito says that money was not bribe money, it was an investment to build a school in Haiti.
Lotito also mentioned that the $24,000 in cash Whitby gave Dallemand at a Denny’s last year, was money for Dallemand’s legal fees. He claims Dallemand asked Whitby for money to help with his legal fees (Dallemand was being sued by BCSD at the time). Lotito says Whitby’s wife was skeptical about Dallemand, that’s why Whitby brought cash. The jury will hear recordings of the Denny’s meet-up later on in the trial.
Knowles’ attorney, James Judkins, stated Knowles did nothing wrong and was just doing his job.
The trial is expected to continue with Dr. Peter Brown on the stand. Brown was a professor at Mercer University and in charge of grant writing for MPN.