UPDATE: A federal grand jury found Cliffard Whitby and Harold Knowles not guilty on all 8 charges including bribery and conspiracy.
“This community has been split and divided,” said Whitby. “We want to do anything we can. We love our community. We want to play the part and help the healing process but this process has work. The legal system is sometimes frustrating but it’s still the greatest system known on earth.”
Whitby walked out a free man Tuesday afternoon surrounded by family and friends.
Knowles had no comment, but a family member walking alongside him said, “Today is a good day for the good guys.”
MACON, Georgia (41NBC/WMGT) – Closing arguments began Tuesday morning in the bribery case against the former Macon-Bibb County Industrial Authority (MBCIA) chairman and a Tallahassee attorney.
The 12th day of trial began with statements from the prosecution. U.S. attorney Danial Bennett went through all 8 counts of charges against Cliffard Whitby and Harold Knowles.
Bennett, who presented a slide show including evidence, went over a chart showing how the alleged bribe money made its way to former Bibb County Schools superintendent, Dr. Romain Dallemand. Dallemand claims Whitby and Knowles bribed him with thousands of dollars during his time as superintendent.
Bennett also went over transcripts of parts of a recorded conversation between Dallemand and Whitby in April of 2017. One part transcribed by the government, stated Whitby told Dallemand, “You and I agreed the original deal was ten for ten years and ten years they…”
Dallemand claims Whitby bribed him in exchange for the Bibb County School District’s (BCSD) support in the Macon Promise Neighborhood (MPN). He says they agreed that if the BCSD gave MPN $1 million for 10 years, Dallemand would receive $100,000 (10%) every year.
Whitby’s defense attorney, Nick Lotito, claims the bribe never happened. In his closing argument, Lotito repeated what he said in his opening statement: Dallemand is a “liar, thief and a common con man.”
“You can’t believe him. He is simply not credible,” Lotito said about Dallemand. He went on to remind the jury of the lies Dallemand told and the inconsistencies in his stories. Most of his argument focused on the type of person Dallemand is.
“He’s been indicted as a result of Dallemand’s devious schemes in this case,” Lotito said about Whitby. Lotito asked the jury to remember what some character witnesses said about Whitby. He mentioned Macon-Bibb County Mayor Robert Reichert’s testimony. Reichert said he and Whitby were allies and he knew of all of the work Whitby did and the plans he had.
Knowles’ attorney, Jimmy Judkins, followed Lotito. He said, “Harold Knowles should not be here.” Judkins also focused on Dallemand’s credibility. He claims Dallemand lied: “Bless his heart. He couldn’t get his facts straight.”
Lastly, Positiventures’ attorney, Seth Kirschenbaum also talked about the lack of credibility in Dallemand’s story.
Prosecutor Beth Howard wrapped up closing arguments by going over why the government believes Dallemand’s bribe story.
“This case is about one thing and that’s bribes,” Howard said. She pointed out how the defense focused on the legitimacy of the Macon Promise Neighborhood, all of the good the defendants have done and their intentions. Howard told the jury to focus on the bribes.
She suggested the jury go back and listen to the recorded conversation between Whitby and Dallemand. She pointed out parts of the conversation where Dallemand tells Whitby, “I have nobody else to talk to or vent to but you.” Whitby responds, “Can’t do that on the phone.”
Howard asked the jury to consider the meeting and to remember a part in the video where both men put their phones in a vehicle, as Dallemand claimed they did before in his testimony.
Check back with 41NBC for updates.