Ex-schools chief Hornsby indicted

Fraud, tampering, obstruction alleged in contract scheme

Sun Follow-up

August 23, 2006|By NICOLE FULLER | NICOLE FULLER,SUN REPORTER

A federal grand jury indicted former Prince George's County schools Superintendent Andre J. Hornsby yesterday on charges that he orchestrated an elaborate scheme to award school contracts worth hundreds of thousands of dollars to financially benefit himself and ordered school officials to destroy evidence to cover the crime.

The 16-count indictment charging Hornsby, 52, with mail and wire fraud, evidence-tampering, witness-tampering and obstruction of justice, alleges that he used his position to ensure that two companies were awarded lucrative schools contracts.

One of them was E-Rate Manager, a "nonexistent" company headed by a former employee of Hornsby's who is cooperating with federal authorities. The other was LeapFrog SchoolHouse, a supplier of educational products for which his live-in girlfriend worked in sales.

Hornsby arranged to get thousands of dollars from the proceeds of lucrative contracts he helped push through for both companies, according to the indictments announced by Maryland U.S. Attorney Rod J. Rosenstein.

Prosecutors said Hornsby instructed personnel to destroy e-mail that might have implicated him criminally and attempted to identify and evade telephone and law enforcement surveillance of his activities.

"It is offensive when anyone abuses the public trust, and it is particularly egregious when people in highly paid government jobs abuse their power to line their own pockets," Rosenstein said.

Hornsby stood to receive more than $100,000 in kickbacks from E-Rate Manager to assist in securing funds for the federal E-Rate program, which provides schools discounts on Internet access and telecommunications services, Rosenstein said.

Hornsby received $10,000 from a $1 million contract awarded to LeapFrog SchoolHouse to provide education software to the school system.

His former girlfriend, Sienna Owens, split her $20,000 share of the sales commission with Hornsby. She was indicted yesterday only on a tax fraud charge that accuses her of failing to report the commission.

Owens' lawyer could not be reached for comment.

Prosecutors began a two-year investigation of Hornsby after an article in The Sun disclosed the relationship between Hornsby and Owens.

Hornsby's attorney, Robert C. Bonsib, would comment yesterday only through a statement in which he said Hornsby will "aggressively contest" the allegations. "Dr. Hornsby is confident that he will be acquitted," Bonsib said.

Hornsby's initial court appearance is expected early next month. He could get a maximum of 20 years in prison for each of the mail and wire fraud counts, and 10 years for witness-tampering and obstruction of justice.

Hornsby, who became head of the 135,000-student system in June 2003, resigned the $250,000-a-year position in May 2005, 10 days before the county school board released an audit that was highly critical of him. He received a $125,000 severance payment.

In the fall of 2003, the indictment said, Hornsby told a former employee - who is not identified in the indictment - to submit a proposal to provide consulting services to the school system for preparing grant applications to the E-Rate program.

In the school board audit, conducted by Huron Consulting Group, the ex-employee is identified as Cynthia Joffrion, who worked for Hornsby in Houston and Yonkers, N.Y., where he also was superintendent.

Hornsby, responding to the audit in a rebuttal submitted by his lawyers and in an interview by Huron investigators, "made various false representations about the LeapFrog and E-Rate contracts," the indictment said.

After the school system received proposals from several companies and selected one, Hornsby directed after the application deadline that the contract not be awarded to the chosen company, making it clear that a proposal from E-Rate Manager would be forthcoming, according to the indictment.

The former employee submitted a copy of a proposal for E-Rate Manager to provide E-Rate consulting services to the school system for a fee of $48,550. Hornsby rejected the proposal, according to the indictment, and ordered his former employee to add to the flat fee a fee of 1 percent of the E-Rate funds received by the school system.

On Dec. 19, 2003, the school system issued a purchase order to pay E-Rate $48,550, plus 1 percent of the E-Rate funds awarded in excess of $2 million.

The system paid E-Rate more than $80,000 in 2004. The next year, E-Rate was awarded a $60,500 contract plus a fee of 1 percent of funds awarded up to $10 million and 1.5 percent of funds in excess of $10 million. The fee was not to exceed $300,000. E-Rate was paid $40,900 before the contract was ended.

The former employee paid Hornsby $1,000 in cash but, according to the indictment, Hornsby instructed the former employee to buy him property - including a truck, art and a yacht - to avoid detection.

Baltimore Sun Articles
|
|
|
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.