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Former city schools IT chief indicted for kickback scheme

Update: According to the Atlanta Journal Constitution, Oberlton pleaded not guilty in court Tuesday, and released on $25,000 bond.

A Georgia grand jury has charged former Baltimore schools information technology chief Jerome Oberlton with seven counts of fraud and other charges related to his tenure with Atlanta Public Schools, during which he and a co-conspirator allegedly took $60,000 in kickbacks and Oberlton's private IT companies took bribes for awarding $700,000 to a contractor.

The indictment, obtained and published by the Dallas Morning News, remained sealed in federal court records Tuesday.

The paper reported last week that Oberlton resigned his post as chief of staff for the Dallas Independent School District informing the district's superintendent Mike Miles that he was the target of a federal investigation.

Check out the DMN story on the indictment, published Monday.

Oberlton took the Dallas post in January, after serving as the Baltimore school system's Chief Information Technology officer for nearly two years.

Following his resignation from Dallas, city school officials told The Sun last week that it would review all contracts awarded under Oberlton's office.

"As a matter of due diligence, and to confirm that there was in fact full compliance with both procurement and ethics policies, we are reviewing all technology contracts awarded during Oberlton's employment with city schools," the district said in a statement. "Additionally, the matter has been referred to our general counsel for ongoing monitoring."

According to the indictment, Oberlton served in the same capacity in Atlanta Public Schools from 2004 to 2007, during which he influenced the awarding of several IT contracts -- paid for with federal money -- in exchange for money and percentages of profits.

The charges also allege that Oberlton failed to reveal his private IT consulting firms to the Atlanta School System, and that the companies received bribes from contractors Oberlton awarded more than $700,000.

In his nearly two-year stint in Baltimore, Oberlton came under fire after two Baltimore Sun investigations found questionable spending in his office.

The first was $250,000 used to outfit Oberlton's executive suite in the basement of the central office, at a time when the district was lobbying lawmakers for billions of dollars to fix the system's crumbling school buildings. While Oberlton said that he did the renovation for health and safety reasons and to attract qualified candidates to the district, city schools officials said it was "a bad judgment call."

Months later, the school district forced Oberlton to pay back $5,000 in credit card expenditures incurred by his office, for purchases at retail stores such as Bath & Body Works and Walmart to buy snacks, refreshments, gifts and decorations for holiday banquets, birthdays and baby shower celebrations.

Other charges he incurred included a $7,300 retreat, a $500 dinner at the Inner Harbor's Fogo de Chao and a $500 quarterly meeting for staff at Paradise Indian Cuisine. He was not required to repay those expenses.

erica.green@baltsun.com

twitter.com/EricaLG

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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