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Posted: Thursday, May 29th 2014 at 5:03pm

Ex-school official gets 3 years in bribery case

By The Associated Press
EMAIL STORY CONTACT EDITOR PRINT
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ATLANTA (AP) -- A former Atlanta Public Schools technology director was sentenced Thursday to serve nearly three and a half years in prison for taking bribes to help a contractor secure work with the district.

Jerome Oberlton, who pleaded guilty in January after reaching an agreement with prosecutors, was sentenced to serve three years and five months in federal prison, to be followed by three years of supervised release. Oberlton and his co-defendant Mahendra Patel, who is to be sentenced next month, will also have to pay restitution of $735,130.

Oberlton told the judge he accepts responsibility for his actions. It was a tough time for him as his wife was dying of cancer and he was trying to figure out how to care for his kids after she died, he told the judge.

"I had no intention to harm, hurt or injure Atlanta Public Schools, or anyone else for that matter," he said.

Oberlton, who was chief information officer for Atlanta's school system from 2004 to 2007, and Patel accepted about $60,000 in kickbacks for arranging for a computer vendor to get a $780,000 contract with the district, prosecutors said.

U.S. Attorney Sally Quillian Yates said in a statement Thursday that Oberlton lined his pockets at the expense of students and teachers.

"In a time when schools struggle to make the most of every dollar, Oberlton put his own greed before his obligation to protect scarce resources," Yates said.

Pastor John Fichtner, who told the judge he'd known Oberlton for about 15 years, said Oberlton was "a walking zombie" as his wife was dying.

"There's not an ounce of greed in this man," Fichtner said, testifying on Oberlton's behalf.

Oberlton was working as chief of staff for the Dallas, Texas, school district at the time of his indictment last year and was subsequently asked to resign.

He 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 newspaper reported that a $250,000 renovation of Oberlton's executive suite was carried out at the same time that the district was asking lawmakers for billions of dollars to fix crumbling school buildings. The newspaper also said Oberlton had been asked to repay expenses his office had run up, including trips to retail stores to buy snacks and refreshments.

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