ATLANTA — After his relationship with the superintendent of Atlanta’s school system soured, a former technology director for the district set up a kickback scheme to pad his pockets before he left his job, according to court documents.
Jerome Oberlton, who was chief information officer for Atlanta Public Schools from 2004 to 2007, reached out to Superintendent Beverly Hall in an attempt to repair their relationship after she rebuked him, while at the same time negotiating the terms of a kickback scheme with a district vendor, prosecutors said in a court filing.
Oberlton and another man, Mahendra Patel, were indicted last year on charges related to the scheme. Both pleaded guilty after reaching agreements with prosecutors. Oberlton, 48, is set to be sentenced Thursday.
Prosecutors have recommended a sentence of three years and five months, plus $735,130 in restitution and 1,000 hours of community service. Patel is scheduled for sentencing next month.
A lawyer for Oberlton couldn’t be reached by phone and didn’t return an e-mail seeking comment Friday.
Hall faces legal troubles of her own, having been indicted last year, along with 34 of her former subordinates, on charges related to a standardized test cheating scandal in Atlanta schools.
Oberlton wrote a letter to Hall in July 2006 to acknowledge that he had violated the district policy regarding conflicts of interest and gifts to staff. He listed 15 instances between 2004 and 2006 when he, as chief information officer, had received gifts from vendors without telling Hall or auditors, prosecutors said.
Hall responded a month later in a strongly worded confidential memo saying she was concerned he had violated the policy even after having undergone training on ethics and conflicts of interest in May 2005. The incident “fractured his relationship with Dr. Hall and, perhaps, caused him to seek the kickbacks,” prosecutors wrote in a court filing.
Oberlton wrote to Hall in January 2007 seeking reconciliation. At the same time, he was secretly arranging to give a contract to a company – skirting the bidding process – in exchange for kickbacks, prosecutors said.
Prosecutors said Oberlton created two companies to hide the kickbacks and funneled the payments through the shell companies. Payments to Patel were disguised as sales commissions for nonexistent consulting work.
Oberlton described the scheme in an e-mail he sent to himself May 27, 2013, the day before he was indicted.
“This arrangement was established during a time of extreme duress when my wife was dying of breast cancer,” he wrote. “My thoughts and activities were not rational and my thinking was not clear. But I admit I worked with (the company) to develop this agreement.”
He tried to justify the payments, writing that he thought it would be legitimate because he accepted the money after leaving the school district.
At the time of his indictment in March 2013, Oberlton was working as chief of staff of the Dallas, Texas, school district. He was subsequently asked to resign.
Oberlton had arrived in Dallas in January 2013 after leaving the Baltimore school system, where he had come under fire for questionable spending during his nearly two-year tenure as the chief information officer.
The Baltimore Sun reported that a $250,000 renovation of Oberlton’s executive suite was carried out while the district was asking for billions of dollars to fix school buildings. The newspaper also said Oberlton had been asked to repay expenses his office had run up, including trips to stores to buy snacks.