Major Witness Against Hornsby Given Probation

By Henri E. Cauvin
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, June 13, 2009

A woman who was a key witness in the government's corruption case against Andre J. Hornsby, the Prince George's County schools chief with whom she had been romantically involved, will not follow him to prison.

Sienna Owens, who testified against Hornsby in exchange for leniency, was sentenced yesterday to probation for a tax offense stemming from the case.

Owens, 30, broke down in tears more than once as she apologized in U.S. District Court in Greenbelt.

"I am a different woman than I was five years ago," Owens said before handing the text of her statement to her attorney, William C. Brennan Jr., so he could finish reading it.

In the gallery, Owens's mother took off her glasses, dabbing her eyes with a tissue.

The sentencing by U.S. District Judge Peter J. Messitte was perhaps the final courtroom chapter in a corruption case that flowed from allegations that ended Hornsby's tenure as schools superintendent.

Hornsby, who is widely considered brash, charismatic and ambitious, was hired in 2003 to turn around the county school system. But barely two years into his tenure, he quit under a cloud of suspicion.

The FBI had begun looking into allegations that he steered a contract to the educational software company where Owens worked. Owens had received a $20,000 commission for the sale, and she split it with Hornsby.

In November 2006, three months after a grand jury indicted Hornsby, Owens pleaded guilty to a felony tax charge and agreed to cooperate against him and testify against him at trial, which she did twice.

The first trial, in 2007, ended in a hung jury. Last summer, Hornsby was retried, and a jury convicted him of six of 22 counts. In November, Hornsby was sentenced to six years in prison.

Yesterday, it was Owens's turn to be sentenced.

With no criminal record and credit for her cooperation, she faced a recommended sentence of zero to six months. Assistant U.S. Attorney Michael R. Pauzé urged Messitte to impose a significant community service requirement but said the government would not oppose probation.

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