Court told of deal to split payment

Ex-schools chief in P.G. accused of taking kickback


October 26, 2007|By Nick Madigan | Nick Madigan,Sun reporter

Sienna Owens, the ex-girlfriend of Andre J. Hornsby, the indicted former head of the Prince George's County school system, went to considerable lengths to hide a $20,000 commission she was to receive for a sale of educational materials to the county, a former colleague of hers testified in Hornsby's trial yesterday.

Prosecutors have accused Hornsby, who joined the school district in 2003 and resigned two years later amid questions about his behavior, of accepting half of Owens' commission as a kickback. They say he used his position to ensure that two companies were awarded lucrative contracts with the district in exchange for secret payments.

One of the companies was LeapFrog SchoolHouse, for which Owens, Hornsby's live-in girlfriend, worked in sales - a relationship he kept hidden from county officials. She has not yet testified at the trial, which began last week in U.S. District Court in Greenbelt.

Debora Adam, who worked with Owens at LeapFrog and whose sales territory included Prince George's County, said on the stand that during a June 11, 2004, meeting in a restaurant near Landover, Owens persuaded her to sign a document stipulating that they would split a $40,000 commission from a deal - worth more than $900,000 - that Owens had set up. Owens' sales territory was centered in Virginia and, normally, she would not made deals in Maryland.

"It looked like a contract to make sure there was going to be a commission split," Adam said. The document advised Adam to keep quiet about the agreement or, she said, "I could be in trouble with the law."

Adam said she signed the paper and handed it to Owens.

"She gave me a copy," Adam said. "She gave it to me and told me to destroy it."

Adam kept the copy, however, and noted that Owens' name wasn't on it. When the commission arrived the next month, Adam said, she mailed Owens a $20,000 check. Prosecutors say Owens split it with Hornsby.

A 16-count indictment last year also charged Hornsby with mail and wire fraud, evidence tampering, witness tampering and obstruction of justice. In court, Hornsby, in a pinstriped suit, sat a few feet from the witness box, whispering occasionally with his lawyer, Robert C. Bonsip.

Adam told Assistant U.S. Attorney Michael R. Pauze that she had denied the existence of the commission split to a Sun reporter who called her in October 2004 and to FBI agents who went to her house in Washington two months later. Fighting tears, she acknowledged that she had struck a deal with the district attorney's office that her "false statements" to the FBI would not be used against her as long as she testified truthfully in Hornsby's trial.

Both Adam and Owens were fired from LeapFrog in December 2004, and their boss, William Davis, was reprimanded.

Testifying earlier yesterday, Davis, who has since left the company, said he had known about Owens' ties to Hornsby even as the three of them put together the $900,000 deal. He did not sign the document that outlined the "commission-sharing" between Owens and Adam, he said, "because of the close relationship between Sienna and Dr. Hornsby."


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