Ex-aide an informant

Woman who worked for Hornsby assisted federal probe

December 12, 2006|By Matthew Dolan | Matthew Dolan,sun reporter

An educational technology expert who had long worked for former Prince George's County schools chief Andre J. Hornsby accused the prominent educator of accepting kickbacks from contractors and then destroying the evidence years before he arrived in Maryland, according to court papers unsealed yesterday.

In a meeting secretly recorded by the FBI, the unnamed witness, who worked with Hornsby in Texas, New York and finally in Maryland, provided federal agents the chance to tape a jittery Hornsby two years ago at Bowie hotel, court papers say.

"Hornsby arrived in the hotel room and immediately began to discuss his belief that he was being followed," Baltimore FBI Special Agent John M. Sheridan wrote in the April 2005 search warrant application made public yesterday.

"Hornsby stated that he had engaged in some turns to ensure that he could determine who was following him and remarked that he had made a mental note of the make, model and color of cars in the parking lot."

He had been right, according to the FBI, whose agents acknowledged they tailed the former schools chief.

The new investigative details come four months after a grand jury leveled a 16-count indictment against Hornsby, alleging mail and wire fraud, evidence-tampering, witness-tampering and obstruction of justice.

Accused by federal prosecutors of illegally steering contracts to two companies from which he received secret payments, he has pleaded not guilty in U.S. District Court in Greenbelt. No trial date has been set.

His attorney Robert C. Bonsib declined to answer questions, saying, "We're not going to get into a blow-by-blow discussion when the government unseals a document that is a rehash of their allegations. That's what we have a courtroom for."

In addition to the cooperating witness, federal prosecutors preparing for Hornsby's trial also have the assistance of Hornsby's former girlfriend.

They accused Hornsby of illegally steering contracts to two educational companies, including LeapFrog SchoolHouse.

Last month, Sienna Owens, Hornsby's former girlfriend who worked for LeapFrog, pleaded guilty to a tax-evasion charge, admitting she split a $20,000 share of her LeapFrog sales commission with Hornsby.

The affidavit unsealed yesterday authorized a search of Prince George's County computers. In its 28 pages, the document also retraces the steps of investigators in great detail as they put their case against Hornsby together with the help of one of his close associates.

The confidential informant told the FBI that she met Hornsby in 1997 when she accepted a job posted by Hornsby in the Houston school district.

Court documents indicate the witness is a woman, but investigators took pains to protect her identity by referring to her as "he/she."

When Hornsby left to become superintendent of the Yonkers, N.Y., school district, he hired the same woman to serve as an assistant superintendent. A job was also provided for her spouse, court papers say.

The informant worked on a computer contract with Apple and Compaq for the suburban New York school district. But Hornsby told the woman that he wanted some of the extra computers included as part of the contract for Hornsby's relatives, according to court papers.

When the woman refused, "Hornsby threatened to fire" her, the FBI's Sheridan wrote in court papers. In the end, "several of the computers were sent to Hornsby's relatives."

The Sun previously reported that a report by the Yonkers inspector general found that Hornsby accepted a trip to the Ryder Club Golf Tournament, valued at about $2,200, from Xerox Corp. two months after awarding the company a $4.3 million copier contract in 1999. The report found that the contract cost the district $2 million more than a competing bid.

Hornsby was dismissed by the Yonkers school board in 2000.

But the inspector general's report apparently did not reveal any evidence tampering by Hornsby, according to court papers.

The witness who later worked with the Baltimore FBI said she first approached the Westchester County District Attorney's office about how Hornsby benefited from Xerox and Apple deals in Yonkers, the affidavit said.

According to the witness, a friend of Hornsby's learned about the possibility of a search of his computer by county investigators "and notified Hornsby so he could dispose of the evidence," Sheridan wrote.

After cooperating with local authorities in New York, court documents show, the FBI witness continued to work for Hornsby, accepting a contract to complete an "information technology assessment" of the Prince George's County school system after Hornsby arrived in Maryland.

The witness' spouse also became entangled in Hornsby's deal-making, according to court papers.

In October 2003, the superintendent suggested that the spouse, who had a company eligible for federal technology funding, apply for such a contract in Prince George's.

Court papers say that Hornsby steered the contract to the witness' spouse, but quickly demanded a quid pro quo.

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