Final cases made

Hornsby jury hears lawyers' closing arguments

November 15, 2007|By Nick Madigan | Nick Madigan,Sun reporter

GREENBELT -- Former Prince George's County school Superintendent Andre J. Hornsby cut an off-the-books deal with his girlfriend, who worked at an educational-supplies company, to enrich them both, a federal prosecutor told jurors yesterday in closing arguments of Hornsby's corruption trial.

In arguments after four weeks of testimony, Assistant U.S. Attorney Stuart A. Berman walked jurors through a 16-count indictment against Hornsby that alleges he orchestrated an elaborate scheme to award high-value school contracts to his lover and a business associate in exchange for kickbacks, and that he ordered school district employees to destroy the evidence.

Noting the deal with Hornsby's girlfriend, Sienna Owens, a saleswoman for LeapFrog SchoolHouse, Berman said, "No one in the school system was recommending spending $1 million" with that company. He said the deal was initiated entirely by Hornsby, 54, who had been fired as head of the Yonkers, N.Y., school district in 2000 after being investigated for corruption. He was hired by Prince George's County in 2003.

"He spotted the chance to enrich his household, himself and his girlfriend," said Berman, who described an unraveling scheme and what he said were Hornsby's efforts to cover his tracks. "In the end, Andre Hornsby wasn't as smart as he thought he was."

Hornsby, who appeared cheerful during breaks in the proceedings yesterday, is charged with mail and wire fraud, evidence tampering, witness tampering and obstruction of justice.

But his attorney, Robert C. Bonsib, told the jury in his closing argument that the government had brought them "half a case, and they're asking you to fill in the blanks."

"We are here to stop this government train," Bonsib said. "You are the mountain over which the government must climb before they get to Dr. Hornsby."

He said his client's only intention during his tenure as school chief until he resigned in 2005 was to create a better learning environment for the children. "He made significant gains in student achievement over two years. He did what he was hired to do. It worked. He was a 24/7 hardworking guy."

Bonsib said that, at most, Hornsby is guilty of being sloppy. "If he doesn't cross the t's and dot the i's to the government's satisfaction, well, we'll live with it," Bonsib said. "There was no intent to defraud, only intent to help the kids."

He called accusations by prosecutors that his client diverted more than $600,000 intended for teachers' salaries to the contract with LeapFrog "the biggest bunch of poppycock I've ever heard."

Bonsib also used words such as "garbage" and "bogus" to describe elements of the government's case. He said his client had emerged "squeaky clean" in a review of his background before being hired by Prince George's County, and accused federal investigators of "creating scenarios" in which Hornsby appeared to commit wrongdoing.

He conceded that several witnesses had given testimony harmful to his client: "There's been some evidence in this case that's been damaging, and I've got to talk about that."

Bonsib largely steered clear, however, of the worst of the allegations, including Owens' testimony that she had put $10,000 in cash on their bed - his cut of her commission for the LeapFrog deal - and that he had put it away in his closet without saying a word. Instead, Bonsib assailed Owens' credibility, repeatedly mentioning her acknowledgment of having lied to a grand jury investigating the case in 2005.

Prosecutors maintained that Hornsby deprived citizens and the school board of his "honest services" by taking kickbacks on school system contracts and trying to cover up his actions when he learned that federal officials were investigating. During the trial, jurors watched a surveillance tape of Hornsby stuffing $1,000 into his shirt pocket, money given to him by Cynthia Joffrion, who had become an FBI informant and had been a colleague of Hornsby's in Houston and Yonkers.

The videotape also shows Hornsby and Joffrion discussing how to conceal $145,000 in payments to him by acquiring antiques or a vintage car, rather than bringing him cash.

"That's your reward," Joffrion is heard saying.

"In this courtroom, ladies and gentlemen," said prosecutor Berman, "the truth has caught up to the lies of Andre Hornsby."

nick.madigan@baltsun.com

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