Hornsby's girlfriend split commission

Audit shows she got paid for Prince George's sale

June 07, 2005|By Alec MacGillis | Alec MacGillis,SUN STAFF

UPPER MARLBORO - The live-in girlfriend of the former Prince George's County schools chief, Andre J. Hornsby, received half of the commission on the school system's $1 million purchase of education software, according to an audit that raised other serious questions about Hornsby's activities.

The audit released yesterday also found that, without the school board's permission, Hornsby was working as a consultant while holding the $250,000 county job, something he had previously denied.

And it found that the school system had circumvented its own bidding rules in awarding a contract to a former colleague of Hornsby's who appeared to have been helping Hornsby run his own consulting business after the contract was awarded.

School board members commissioned the investigative audit from a private consultant after articles in The Sun raised questions about Hornsby's dealings with LeapFrog SchoolHouse, the company that employed his girlfriend and sold the software to the county.

Ten days ago, as the audit neared completion, Hornsby resigned - taking with him a $125,000 severance payment.

Board members who gave Hornsby the benefit of the doubt for months said in a news conference yesterday that the audit showed Hornsby had repeatedly deceived them.

"We feel we have been misled," said board chairwoman Beatrice Tignor, who had been one of Hornsby's staunchest defenders.

But the audit revealed on its last page that the board's own attorney had been informed by LeapFrog in December that Hornsby's girlfriend had received payment after the $1 million sale. Board members did not address yesterday why they didn't take action against Hornsby at that point.

Board members said despite the audit's revelations, they still believed that agreeing to a $125,000 severance payment was the right thing to do because it spared the county from the likelihood of a lengthy court battle with Hornsby.

Hornsby responded to the audit report in an 18-page rebuttal submitted by his lawyers, by far his most detailed public statement to date on the allegations. In it, he questioned the audit's validity and maintained that every action he had taken in his two-year tenure had been for the benefit of the school system.

"It is clear ... that no fair minded person can reasonably dispute that Dr. Hornsby sought to do what he thought was right and best for the students of the Prince George's County Public Schools," the statement concluded.

Hornsby's dealings with education vendors remain under investigation by the state prosecutor and the FBI, which seized boxes of materials from school system offices two months ago.

But the 36-page audit by Huron Consulting - which relied on hundreds of e-mails obtained by Huron as well as interviews with Hornsby and other system staff members - confirmed many of the allegations of possible ethical misconduct that were first reported in The Sun last fall and winter.

The audit found that Hornsby's girlfriend, Sienna Owens, benefited from and was very much involved in the county's dealings with LeapFrog SchoolHouse and that Hornsby was a prime instigator of the county's June 2004 purchase of early-literacy technology from the company. That material cost just under $1 million in federal funds.

This finding was directly contrary to claims by Hornsby, 51, and Owens, 26, in response to the newspaper's initial October reports on the LeapFrog sale. They said that the sale was handled by a different LeapFrog saleswoman and that the decision to make the purchase was handled by Hornsby's staff.

Both Owens, who received a major promotion after the sale, and the saleswoman assigned to the deal, Debora Adam, said last fall that Adam had received the full commission on the deal, which those familiar with the deal have estimated at $40,000.

But both saleswomen left LeapFrog in December after it carried out its own inquiry into what happened with the commission. That inquiry also forced the resignation of LeapFrog SchoolHouse's president, Bob Lally, and prompted the school board to order the $100,000 Huron audit.

The auditors reported that, contrary to what both saleswomen had said, LeapFrog had told the school board's attorney in December that Adam and Owens did in fact split the commission, the size of which the audit did not confirm. The company told the attorney that the commission split was against company rules.

Although Adam was acting as the public face on the $1 million deal, auditors were able to recover partial records of 18 e-mails between Owens and Hornsby from 2004 that contained references to LeapFrog business. (Hornsby had erased the hundreds of e-mails between him and Owens, the audit states, but Huron was able to recover at least the subject lines from e-mails sent after June 2004.)

One e-mail from Owens, sent the same month as the purchase, instructed Hornsby to "call Bill," a reference to a regional sales director for LeapFrog who was involved in the deal.

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