Macon group with ties to Ga. congressman indicted

January 18, 2016 Atlanta - Congressman Sanford Bishop paid former campaign manager through company charged in public corruption probe. JONATHAN PHILLIPS / SPECIAL
January 18, 2016 Atlanta - Congressman Sanford Bishop paid former campaign manager through company charged in public corruption probe. JONATHAN PHILLIPS / SPECIAL

A political consulting company that Albany Congressman Sanford Bishop hired to lead his re-election campaign in 2014 was charged by the Justice Department last week with conspiring to launder money.

The Democrat, who has represented Georgia’s 2nd U.S. House District for 24 years, spent more than $95,000 on the services of the Macon-based Positiventures Initiative LLC in 2014, according to federal campaign finance filings. Positiventures is an advocacy group formed to fight poverty in struggling west and middle Georgia communities.

Bishop said the group provided him with his campaign manager Kimberlyn Carter for the 2014 election cycle and also constructed and installed large wooden campaign signs throughout the district, which encompasses a 29-county swath of Southwest Georgia and includes portions of Macon.

“I only dealt with them because that was the way that they requested the services be billed,” Bishop said of Positiventures in an interview Thursday. “Apparently (Carter) had a relationship with Positiventures, and of course she’s a very skilled and trained campaign operative.”

The company was named in a federal corruption probe that drew big headlines in middle Georgia when it was announced last week. Cliff Whitby, the head of the company, is also the chairman of the Macon-Bibb County Industrial Authority and an influential local recruiter. He faces corruption and bribery charges. Former school superintendent Romain Dallemand also pleaded guilty to tax-related charges related to the investigation.

Whitby and a Florida attorney are accused of paying about $434,000 to bribe Dallemand to support the Macon Promise Neighborhood plan, a program backed by federal grant money to help struggling local schools.

Prosecutors also accuse Whitby of transferring cash to Positiventures, which was also charged with conspiracy to launder money.

Federal Election Commission records show that Bishop’s campaign paid Positiventures nearly $61,000 on Election Day and $34,349 a month later. The Congressman said the latter expense was to resolve a “dispute” he had with Whitby over campaign expenditures for which the group had sought reimbursement.

It was an “amicable settlement,” Bishop said. He won re-election that year by more than 18 percentage points, and ended up directly paying Carter an $8,500 bonus after he won the race and shelling out thousands more to reimburse her for campaign expenses.

In an interview, Carter said she was working at Positiventures on poverty initiatives when Bishop asked her to run his 2014 re-election campaign. She had worked for him in the 2012 race, she said, “and he got a chance to see my passion and my work.”

Rather than come off Positiventure’s rolls, Carter said, she asked Bishop to pay her through the group.

“We did a lot of great work. At the time, we were trying to work to reduce poverty,” she said. “I was not involved in any wrongdoing. Not in the least bit.”

Bishop said he did not work with Positiventures after the 2014 but that he would work with Carter again “as an individual.”

“She’s very capable,” Bishop said.

As for Whitby, Bishop said he crossed paths with him frequently at local political and economic events in Macon. He said he also sought Whitby’s “advice and counsel” on local matters given his role as a business leader and a constituent.

Bishop said he heard of the indictments of Whitby and Positiventures only as the news broke.

Whitby “enjoys a very high reputation, so I was very, very shocked and disappointed to hear of the indictment,” Bishop said.

Whitby has since stepped down from the Macon-Bibb County Industrial Authority’s board, saying he was “shocked by the terrible and unexpected allegations” in his resignation letter. He has deferred further comment to his attorney, who didn’t immediately return calls.