Ex-Girlfriend Says Hornsby Wanted Her To Keep Quiet
NOTE: These are federal funds at issue here. Our tax dollars. We all have a stake in this. If officials and/or the media would ever get serious about following the NCLB money, there would be plenty more scandal.
By Ruben Castaneda
The former girlfriend of Andre J. Hornsby testified yesterday that, on the eve of her appearance before a federal grand jury, she received a phone call from Hornsby, who was then the schools chief in Prince George's County and the target of the investigation with which she had agreed to cooperate.
Sienna Owens, testifying at Hornsby's corruption trial in U.S. District Court in Greenbelt, said she did not tell him about the plea agreement she had signed or about her planned appearance before the grand jury.
Owens, 29, said she quickly realized that Hornsby, 54, wanted her to keep quiet about $10,000 she had given him -- half of a commission she received after Hornsby arranged for the school system to make a nearly $1 million purchase from an educational technology company where she worked as a saleswoman.
"He told me that I hadn't done anything wrong -- to make sure I didn't sign anything," she said under examination by Assistant U.S. Attorney Stuart A. Berman.
Owens testified that she responded by tearfully saying that "I had done something wrong, we'd both done something wrong, and I was going to tell the truth, so there was nothing more to discuss."
The next day, Aug. 22, 2006, Owens testified before the grand jury, which returned an indictment against Hornsby later that day.
Owens is among the government's key witnesses against Hornsby, who served as chief of the 135,000-student public school system from June 2003 to May 2005, when he resigned while under FBI investigation. She has pleaded guilty to a tax offense and, under her agreement with prosecutors, is expected to receive no more than six months in prison.
Federal prosecutors allege that Hornsby arranged the purchase and then took the $10,000 as a kickback. Owens, whose assigned sales territory was Virginia, split a $40,000 commission with the saleswoman assigned to Prince George's, then gave half of her take to Hornsby, federal prosecutors say.
In a separate arrangement, Hornsby is accused of steering a consulting contract to a longtime business associate to help the school system secure funds under a federal program known as E-Rate. Prosecutors allege that Hornsby expected kickbacks of $145,000. He is also charged with witness tampering and obstruction of justice.
Yesterday, Owens testified that the idea for the purchase from her firm, LeapFrog, came "out of the blue" as she and Hornsby had lunch at a restaurant at Reagan National Airport on June 3, 2004, while waiting for a flight to Kansas for a conference. She testified that Hornsby said he needed educational materials for 216 kindergarten classrooms and had about $500,000 in federal funds to spend, half of the amount the school system eventually spent.
Owens testified that, at their hotel room in Topeka, she set to work on a proposal. She testified that when she attempted to discuss the issue of a commission with Hornsby in a public area of the hotel, he said, "Don't talk about that here."
Late in the day yesterday, during an aggressive cross-examination, Hornsby's attorney, Robert C. Bonsib, pressed Owens on whether his client knew she would receive a commission and whether the two had a specific discussion about the issue.
"No specific discussion," she testified. "No."
Owens said that in August 2004, she placed $10,000 in cash on the bed she shared in Hornsby's townhouse in Mitchellville. When Hornsby saw the cash, he picked it up and put it in a closet without asking where it came from, Owens testified.
She said she gave Hornsby the money because she had a "50-50" mentality.
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