Mahendra Patel, 45, of Kennesaw, pleaded guilty Aug. 16 to conspiring with Oberlton to accept bribes.
Oberlton, 48, of Atlanta, pleaded guilty to conspiring with Patel and others to accept bribes, which carries a maximum term of imprisonment of five years and a fine of $250,000. The parties have recommended to the court Oberlton receive a sentence of 41 months’ imprisonment, pay $735,130 in restitution and perform 1,000 hours of community service. 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. Sentencing is scheduled for March 24.
According to United States Attorney Yates, the indictment, and information presented in court, Oberlton had overall management responsibility for the district’s information technology program. In January 2007, the district issued a request for proposal (RFP) for a data warehousing project at the school system. The data project was intended to centralize information relating to district 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, Oberlton and Patel conspired to influence the RFP process for the data project, and, ultimately, caused the winning bidder to be selected in exchange for kickbacks paid to Oberlton and Patel. While Patel did not work for the district, he had connections with a Detroit-based technology company that received the contract through the corrupted RFP process. In order to hide the bribes, Oberlton created two shell companies, 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 the district even when questions arose in 2007. 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 over almost six months and, in return, the company received $780,000 in district project work.
Oberlton was the district's CIO 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, shortly after he was indicted.
Assistant U.S. Attorneys Kurt R. Erskine and Jill E. Steinberg are prosecuting the case.
These cases are being investigated by the Federal Bureau of Investigation and Internal Revenue Service.