Hornsby guilty of corruption

Ex-Prince George's schools chief used office to get cut of contracts

Sun Follow-up

July 24, 2008|By Nick Madigan | Nick Madigan,SUN REPORTER

After four years of investigations, two trials and a determined effort by federal prosecutors, former Prince George's County schools Superintendent Andre J. Hornsby was found guilty yesterday of six of the 22 counts of corruption with which he was charged.

Hornsby, 54, was acquitted of two charges, and the jury deadlocked on the remaining 14. He was released pending sentencing on Oct. 20, when he could face a maximum of 90 years in prison.

But Hornsby will most likely be sentenced to considerably less, perhaps a dozen years or more.

U.S. District Judge Peter J. Messite, in his courtroom in Greenbelt, told Hornsby he must not travel abroad without the court's permission and ordered him to surrender his passport.

"It's a resounding vindication of the public's interest in integrity in government," Rod J. Rosenstein, the U.S. attorney for Maryland, said by telephone after the verdict.

"It's always a sad day to find someone in a position of responsibility who allowed greed to divert him from pursuing the interests of the students."

Hornsby's lawyer, Robert C. Bonsib, said late yesterday that he and his client were "obviously disappointed."

"When you're up against the federal government and you're one guy, it's a tough fight," he said.

"We're hoping that when sentencing comes around, the many good deeds and the accomplishments he had in Prince George's County will be taken into consideration by the judge."

Bonsib said he expects Hornsby to file an appeal after sentencing.

Hornsby was convicted of three counts of wire fraud and one each of evidence tampering, witness tampering and obstruction of justice. The jury, which spent five days deliberating, acquitted him of a wire fraud count and a witness tampering count.

An earlier trial ended in November with a deadlocked jury.

The FBI launched an investigation of Hornsby's activities in the fall of 2004 after The Sun reported that he had presided over a $1 million purchase of early-literacy technology from LeapFrog SchoolHouse without disclosing that his live-in lover, Sienna Owens, was a saleswoman for the company.

Owens testified in both trials that she had split a $20,000 share of her LeapFrog sales commission with Hornsby by placing $10,000 in cash on the bed they shared in his townhouse in Mitchellville. He scooped up the money without a word, she told jurors.

In the months leading up to that action, she said, Hornsby occasionally asked her, "Where's my cut?"

Ultimately, a grand jury brought felony charges against Hornsby after investigators concluded that he illegally steered contracts not only to LeapFrog but to E-Rate Manager, a shell company run by Hornsby's business partner, Cynthia Joffrion.

Hornsby covertly arranged to get thousands of dollars from the proceeds of the lucrative contracts he helped push through for both companies, according to the indictment.

Jurors watched surveillance tapes in which Hornsby, sitting in a hotel room with a glass of wine, is heard advising Joffrion how to pay him a $145,000 kickback by buying antiques, classic cars, paintings and other valuable items that could then be sold.

"If I give you cash ... how in the [expletive] are they going to know that?" Joffrion asked Hornsby during the Dec. 20, 2004, meeting. "I'm not telling anybody. I'm not going to jail."

"Me either," Hornsby replied. The tape then shows him stuffing a $1,000 down payment into his pocket.

Prosecutors said Hornsby ordered school employees to destroy e-mail messages that might have implicated him. One employee kept a copy of the e-mail backup tapes, giving prosecutors a timeline for the deals.

Hornsby had been given the top job in the Prince George's County schools system in 2003 despite conflict-of-interest allegations that had ended his service as schools superintendent in Yonkers, N.Y.

Once in Maryland, Hornsby replaced Iris Metts, who had feuded openly with the school board and left the system deep in deficit. Hornsby had helped to raise test scores as an administrator in Yonkers and Houston, and the hope was that he would do the same in Prince George's, which had struggled to help underachieving students.

He resigned in 2005, halfway through his four-year contract and months after the suspicious contract scheme was revealed in The Sun. In addition to making $250,000 a year, Hornsby received a $125,000 severance payment when he quit the school system, the second-largest in the state and 18th-largest in the country, and one that had already seen considerable turbulence in recent years.

His departure came days before the county school board issued the results of an audit that was highly critical of his activities.

Among other things, the audit showed that Owens, whose sales territory was not supposed to cover Maryland, received half of the commission on the school system's $1 million purchase in June 2004 of education software from LeapFrog, a deal that had been pushed and approved by Hornsby.

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