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Feds indict Gretna city attorney

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By Erin Hill

Gretna’s city attorney, Harold Knowles, was recently indicted on federal charges by a grand jury for the Middle District of Georgia.
According to a press release from the U.S. Attorney for the Middle District of Georgia, G. F. Peterman, III, announced that Harold Knowles and Cliffard Whitby,  Macon-Bibb County Industrial Authority chairman, were arrested Friday, Aug. 11 — Knowles in Tallahassee and Whitby in Macon, Ga.  Whitby’s alleged crimes in the indictment are not related to his work at the Industrial Authority.
Knowles’ indictment was unsealed later that day as he appeared before U.S. Magistrate Judge Chares Stampelos at the federal courthouse in downtown Tallahassee, where he appeared with his attorney, Jack McClean.
The indictment relates to allegations accusing Whitby and Knowles of being involved in paying $100,000 in bribemoney to former Bibb County School Superintendent Romain Dallemand, who served in the post from February 2011 to June 2013, according to the indictment states.
Knowles, who has served as the city’s attorney for 40 years, has been indicted on charges of conspiracy to pay a bribe to an agent or organization receiving federal funds, money laundering and paying a bribe.
Knowles, 69, is a managing shareholder of Knowles & Randolph, the oldest black-owned law firm in North Florida.  They have offices in Tallahassee and Quincy.  The Knowles & Randolph law firm also serves as general counsel for Leon County’s Code Enforcement Board, the independent Housing Finance Authority in Leon County and recently was named general counsel for the Board of Adjustment and Appeal, according to the firm’s website.
As a result of the accusations against Knowles, Gretna Commissioner Clarence Jackson is calling for Knowles to step down.  Jackson wrote a letter to Mayor Anthony Baker requesting a formal hearing to discuss Knowles’ immediate future as the city attorney for Gretna.
Jackson said he understands Knowles is innocent until proven guilty, but also understands the seriousness of which he stands accused.  
“Mr. Knowles’ trustworthiness and integrity has been compromised by this federal indictment,” Jackson said.  “Representing the city in any legal matters will put the city at risk of not having credible
counsel.”
Jackson said his recommendations are solely his own, and he does not speak for the Board, but if Knowles enters a plea agreement or is found guilt of the charges, he will seek for permanent removal.
City Manager Antonio Jefferson could not be reached for comment, but Jackson confirmed Knowles is currently not under contract with the city.  Knowles is paid roughly $6,500 per month to represent the city, Jackson said.
Knowles did not alert Gretna’s city commission of the indictment; commissioners found out from the media attention the indictment received, Jackson said.
A meeting is set for Tuesday, Sept. 5 at the Helen Franks building.
If convicted on all charges, the statutory maximum sentence in federal prison authorized for the bribe conspiracy is five years, for the substantive bribery counts is 10 years, and for the money laundering conspiracy is 20 years. The money laundering conspiracy carries a maximum fine of $500,000.00 or twice the value of the property involved in the transaction, whichever is greater. The other charges carry a maximum possible fine of $250,000, each the U.S. Attorney’s press release states.
Federal Bureau of Investigation and Internal Revenue Service investigated the case.