Hornsby case put to jury

Panel members hear closing arguments in corruption trial

July 16, 2008|By Nick Madigan | Nick Madigan,Sun Reporter

GREENBELT - Jurors who are to decide the fate of former Prince George's County schools chief Andre J. Hornsby were virtually bombarded yesterday with facts, figures and entreaties by attorneys for the prosecution and the defense during closing arguments in the four-week-long corruption trial.

Describing each of the 22 counts against Hornsby in federal court, Assistant U.S. Attorney Stuart A. Berman said that Hornsby "defrauded the school system of his honest services" when he tried to enrich himself through surreptitious deals with a longtime business partner and with a saleswoman for an educational materials company who was his live-in girlfriend.

"He's conjuring lie after lie," Berman said, referring to what he described as Hornsby's efforts not only to set up secret kickbacks for himself but also to his attempts to destroy evidence of his involvement in the deals and to persuade his two associates to hide the truth on his behalf.

In an irate tone, Hornsby's defense lawyer, Robert C. Bonsib, responded that he had a "profound disagreement" with how prosecutors had presented their case "in their effort to take down Dr. Hornsby." Bonsib spent much of the first hour of his summation arguing that the government had manipulated evidence as part of a conspiracy to "get" his client, who, he said, wanted nothing more than to help the school district's children in their academic endeavors.

"Those folks got to run over me before you can get to Dr. Hornsby," said Bonsib, speaking against the backdrop of a PowerPoint presentation that included images of children with some of the educational tools Hornsby had acquired for the district.

The defense lawyer told jurors they should be "offended" by the attacks on his client, calling them "misleading," "crazy" and "absurd."

It is the second time Hornsby has been tried on the charges. In November, a mistrial was declared in the same courtroom after jurors were unable to reach unanimous verdicts on any of the 16 counts with which he had been charged.

Berman, who was also part of the prosecution team in the first trial, told jurors they need not find that Hornsby benefited from the alleged schemes - only that he took part in them. Nevertheless, Berman, with the aid of surveillance tapes produced during an FBI probe of Hornsby's activities, emphasized what he said were the former superintendent's efforts to obtain a $145,000 kickback from a deal he had steered to the school district as well as his acceptance of $10,000 in cash from a commission paid to his then-girlfriend, Sienna Owens.

Hornsby hid the relationship from his staff and school board members who approved the deals, Berman said, and when Owens' role came to light, denied that she had been involved. Berman told jurors that, behind the scenes, Hornsby ordered Owens, his business partner Cynthia Joffrion and school district staff members to destroy e-mails and other records that might have led investigators to the collusion.

Unbeknownst to Hornsby, a school district employee kept backup tapes of hundreds of e-mails, giving prosecutors a rich trove of evidence.

But Bonsib, the defense lawyer, made much of the fact that the government did not call Joffrion - who became an FBI informant in the case - to the stand, an omission that he suggested raised questions. Also, Bonsib was dismissive of Owens' testimony, calling her a "schemer" and "the only person who can suggest anything untoward on the part of Dr. Hornsby."

Hornsby was 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 and resigned with $125,000 in severance pay two years later while under fire for the alleged deals that ultimately led to his indictment.

nick.madigan@baltsun.com

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