Former Prince George's schools chief gets 6 years in U.S. corruption case

sun follow-up

November 26, 2008|By Nick Madigan | Nick Madigan,

Greenbelt - Former Prince George's County schools Superintendent Andre J. Hornsby was sentenced yesterday to a total of six years of prison time in a federal corruption case.

"I'm totally embarrassed by what situation I've put myself into," Hornsby told U.S. District Judge Peter J. Messite. "I understand the seriousness of my actions. I understand mistakes were made. I understand decisions were made. This has taken a toll on myself, my family, my friends and my colleagues."

Messite also directed Hornsby to serve three years of supervised release after he leaves prison and pay a $20,000 fine and $70,000 in restitution to the Prince George's schools. Hornsby also will need to enroll in alcohol treatment and cooperate with the Internal Revenue Service in a probe of his tax returns, the judge said.

"Judge Messite was fair," Hornsby told reporters after the sentencing. "He could have definitely sentenced me to a lot more."

The FBI launched an investigation of Hornsby's activities in the fall of 2004 after The Baltimore 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.

In July, after four years of investigations and two trials, the 55-year-old Hornsby was convicted of three counts of wire fraud and one count 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. The jury deadlocked on the remaining 14 counts.

"It's an appropriate sentence. It reflects the severity of the crime and the abuse of public trust," said Rod J. Rosenstein, the U.S. attorney for Maryland.

Hornsby could have faced up to 90 years in prison during yesterday's sentences. Federal prosecutors asked the judge for a 12 1/2 -year term. Messite sentenced Hornsby to six years for each of the six counts, but permitted the terms to be served concurrently.

"We're pleased that Judge Messite imposed what he thought was a reasonable sentence and he rejected the excessive sentencing request of the government," said Hornsby's attorney, Robert C. Bonsib.

Bonsib said he still plans to file an appeal and asked that Hornsby be assigned to serve his time at the federal facility in El Reno, Okla., west of Oklahoma City. The judge did not immediately rule on that request but directed that Hornsby report to prison Jan. 2.

During yesterday's sentencing hearing, more than a dozen people spoke on Hornsby's behalf, asking for leniency and telling the judge that the former superintendent still had the potential to do a lot of good.

Marietta English, president of the Baltimore Teachers Union, described Hornsby as "a visionary educator" and "a person of compassion."

"I do plead leniency for this wonderful educator who has a vision for our children," English said.

Hornsby's two grown daughters, Yvette and Morgan, also asked the federal judge to minimize their father's prison sentence. "He spent his life making sure multiple people in my family were taken care of," Yvette Hornsby said, especially after the daughters' mother "became very unstable."

"I pray that he is able to continue to touch the lives of children everywhere," said Yvette Hornsby, who became a point of focus in the trial for her role in delivering a prepaid cell phone and code to Owens so Hornsby could secretly communicate with her amid the FBI investigation.

When Hornsby addressed the court, he appeared contrite, his voice trembling as he spoke. "I hope that for the missteps I have made and the things I have been convicted of, do not destroy what I can offer to my country."

But prosecutors painted Hornsby as someone driven by greed, criticizing him for using his own daughter to try to obstruct an investigation.

In considering the sentence, the judge said he was troubled that prosecutors were requesting more than 12 years, when others convicted of public corruption - including lobbyist Jack Abramhoff and former U.S. Rep. Randy Cunningham of California - were sentenced to less time.

Messite described Hornsby as "an obviously talented man" who has done "really remarkable things."

"It is a serious matter when public officials enrich themselves," Messite concluded.

Hornsby had been given the top job in the Prince George's schools 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.

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