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Posted at 10:09 AM ET, 03/22/2012

Ex-Prince George’s schools chief, Andre Hornsby, to be released from prison

A federal judge Thursday reduced by two years the prison sentence of former Prince George's County schools chief Andre Hornsby, who steered lucrative school system contracts to his girlfriend and tried to cover his tracks.

Hornsby’s lawyer, Robert C. Bonsib, said the new sentence means that Hornsby likely will be released from prison in about two months. He has been in prison since 2008.

“This is effectively time served,” Bonsib said. “He’s close to being released and we are very pleased.”

An appeals court in January threw out half of the criminal convictions against Hornsby in the wake of a Supreme Court decision, leaving a federal judge to decide Thursday whether to reduce Hornsby’s initial sentence of six years.

U.S. District Judge Peter J. Messitte invoked the public corruption case against former Prince George’s county executive Jack B. Johnson, who pleaded guilty to taking more than $400,000 in bribes and was sentenced to seven years in prison.

Hornsby “deserves no medals” and “did breach the public trust,” but said he was troubled by the idea of reimposing a six-year sentence as the U.S. Attorney’s Office had requested because it would be out of proportion to Johnson’s sentence for a more far-reaching scheme.

“It’s very hard for me to ignore the entire picture of corruption that has unfortunately characterized Prince George’s County in these last few years,” said Messitte, who also presided over the Johnson case.


Prince George's County School's CEO Dr. Andre Hornsby listens to Alfonso Porter of Porter Communications at an annual Chamber of Commerce breakfast in August 2004 at the Greenbelt Marriott. (Mark Gail/ THE WASHINGTON POST)
Hornsby directed lucrative school system contracts not only to his girlfriend but also a business associate, and was convicted of evidence tampering and obstruction.

But the legal rules have changed since Hornsby was convicted in part on a law that makes it a crime to deny a person the right of so-called “honest services.” A Supreme Court opinion in 2010 called the law unconstitutionally vague and narrowed its application to cases involving kickbacks or bribes.

As a result, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit in January threw out half of the criminal convictions against Hornsby. The appeals court vacated the honest-services fraud conviction, but upheld the evidence-tampering, witness-tampering and obstruction charges against him.

In the Greenbelt courtroom of U.S. District Judge Peter J. Messitte Thursday, prosecutors will try to make the case that Hornsby should again be sentenced to six years in prison “because the evidence clearly demonstrated that defendant Hornsby engaged in a kickback scheme,” according to court documents filed by Assistant U.S. Attorney Stuart A. Berman.

Bonsib, Hornsby’s attorney, disputes the prosecution’s assertion that Hornsby “has not accepted responsibility in open court for his actions” and quotes from his original sentencing hearing in which he acknowledges “the missteps that I have made.”

Hornsby, who participated in the hearing by conference call from California where he is incarcerated, also made a personal plea in a letter to Judge Messitte. He says he has “maintained the drive to help others,” tutoring inmates and coordinating educational programs.

Hired in 2003 to turn around Prince George’s troubled public school system, Hornsby was indicted in 2006. His first trial ended in a hung jury. At a retrial, Hornsby’s girlfriend, Sienna Owens, testified that she gave Hornsby half of her $20,000 commission as a present for helping her with the contract with the educational technology firm LeapFrog, where she worked.

By Ann Marimow  |  10:09 AM ET, 03/22/2012

 
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