Former Consultant Pleads Guilty To His Role In Atlanta Public Schools Kickback Scheme
ATLANTA – Mahendra Patel has pleaded guilty to conspiring with former Atlanta Public Schools (APS) Chief Information Officer (CIO) Jerome Oberlton to receive kickbacks in exchange for Oberlton using his influence at APS to award a $780,000 computer project to the firm.
“Patel subverted the fairness of the contracting process for his own benefit, and ultimately undermined the trust taxpayers place in APS to provide high-quality educational services,” said United States Attorney Sally Quillian Yates. “In a time when educational resources are scarce or often non-existent, his fraud helped steer a lucrative computer contract to the highest bidder – one that was willing to line his pockets in exchange for work.”
Mark F. Giuliano, Special Agent in Charge, FBI Atlanta Field Office, stated: “With today’s guilty plea, Mr. Patel acknowledges his criminal wrongdoing for which he will now be held accountable. The FBI will continue to provide its investigative resources and expertise in exposing such corrupt kickback-based contract deals that subvert the normal process and cost taxpayers additional money.”
“The prosecution of individuals who manipulate normal business transactions in an effort to enrich themselves, has always been a priority of IRS and our law enforcement partners,” stated Veronica Hyman-Pillot, Special Agent in Charge, IRS Criminal Investigation. “Individuals who line their pockets with profits from fraudulent schemes should know, they will not go undetected and will be held accountable.”
According to United States Attorney Yates, the indictment, and information presented in court: Oberlton had overall management responsibility for APS’ information technology program. In January 2007, APS issued a request for proposal (RFP) for a Data Warehousing (DW) project at the school system. The DW project was intended to centralize information relating to APS operations, including student information, so that it was maintained digitally in a secure, easily-accessible manner.
From the start of the project in January 2007, Patel and Oberlton conspired to influence the RFP process and, ultimately, caused the winning bidder to be selected in exchange for kickbacks paid to both. In order to hide the bribes, Oberlton created Global Technology Partners (GTP) and, later, Global Technology Services (GTS) and funneled the bribe payments through these shell companies. Oberlton was able to conceal his ownership of GTP and GTS from APS even when questions arose in 2007. In contrast, the kickbacks to Patel were disguised as sales commissions for non-existent consulting work that he supposedly performed for the shell companies. In reality, Patel acted as an intermediary, helping to negotiate the kickbacks between Oberlton and the Detroit-based technology company and then signed fake sales consultant agreements to hide his role. The Detroit-based technology company ultimately paid approximately $60,000 in bribes to Oberlton and Patel over almost six months and, in return, the company received almost $800,000 in APS project work.
Oberlton was the CIO for APS between June 2004 and August 2007 and, most recently, was the Chief of Staff for the Dallas Independent School District before he resigned in May 2013, shortly after he was indicted.
Patel, 45, of Kennesaw, Ga., pleaded guilty to conspiring with Oberlton to accept bribes, which carries a maximum term of imprisonment of five years and a fine of $250,000. In determining the actual sentence, the Court will consider the United States Sentencing Guidelines, which are not binding but provide appropriate sentencing ranges for most offenders. A sentencing date for Patel has not yet been set by the Court.
A trial date for Jerome Oberlton has not been set.
These cases are being investigated by the Federal Bureau of Investigation and Internal Revenue Service.
Assistant United States Attorneys Kurt R. Erskine and Jill Steinberg are prosecuting the case.
For further information please contact the U.S. Attorney’s Public Affairs Office at USAGAN.PressEmails@usdoj.gov or (404) 581-6016. The Internet address for the HomePage for the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Northern District of Georgia is www.justice.gov/usao/gan.