TALLAHASSEE — The recent federal indictment of an attorney on federal bribery, conspiracy and money-laundering charges has left a Florida community surprised by the developments.
Harold Knowles’ legal career spans over 40 years and includes stints in various government and community agencies.
According to the Tallahassee Democrat, across much of the community, the 69-year-old lawyer and founder of Knowles & Randolph, one of North Florida’s oldest black firms, is seen as a trailblazer, standing as one of a handful of black students to integrate nearby Leon High School during the 1960s.
Knowles’ standing in the Big Bend community now stands in question following his indictment on the charges, which were levied in a Middle District of Georgia Macon Division courtroom after U.S. Marshals took him into custody Aug. 11.
Those who know Knowles insist the charges are not reflective of the man they know, with former Tallahassee Mayor John Marks, who once worked along side with him as a founding partner of Knowles, Marks & Randolph, calling them “surprising and shocking," according to the Democrat.
Knowles’ attorney, Jack McLean, did not respond to repeated interview requests made by the Florida Record.
In a press release, government prosecutors noted the indictment fingers Knowles at the middleman in a corruption scandal in which Pinnacle/CSG company allegedly paid a $100,000 bribe to former Bibb County School Superintendent Romain Dallemand for the right to provide technology sales to the district in 2012. Former Macon-Bibb County Industrial Chairman Cliffard Whitby, 54, has also been charged in connection with the scheme.
Prosecutors say the check paid to Dallemand was from Knowles’ law firm and that he gave him a letter indicating the money had previously been placed in Knowles’ account as a down payment for a home.
Knowles’ political connections across the community and the Republican Party run deep.
He was previously appointed to Florida State University board of trustees by former Gov. Jeb Bush, who also assigned him to the Florida Lottery Commission and Florida’s Federal Judicial Nominating Commission. In addition to doing work for the city of Tallahassee, Knowles’ law firm also includes a long list of municipal, code enforcement boards and nonprofits as clients.
A spokesperson for the Florida Bar Association said Knowles has been in good standing since 1974, and at his Aug. 11 appearance before a federal magistrate, he was released without having to post bail.