Narratives Collide at Schrenko's Corruption Trial; Who Did It? It All Depends on Which Lawyer Is Telling What Happened

By Larrabee, Brandon | The Florida Times Union, May 7, 2006 | Go to article overview
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Narratives Collide at Schrenko's Corruption Trial; Who Did It? It All Depends on Which Lawyer Is Telling What Happened


Larrabee, Brandon, The Florida Times Union


Byline: BRANDON LARRABEE

ATLANTA -- There are a few things on which both sides in the Linda Schrenko corruption trial agree.

The defense does not seem to quibble with the idea that someone within Computer Consulting Services Corp., an Atlanta-area company, funneled thousands of dollars from federal education grants into Schrenko's 2002 campaign for governor.

The sides do not disagree that, under Schrenko's authority at the time as state schools superintendent, the Department of Education awarded several contracts of less than $50,000 to Computer Consulting.

There are small disagreements on the finer details of the scheme, but what they mainly disagree on is who's to blame.

For the prosecution, the responsibility rests on the three defendants: Schrenko, South African businessman and Computer Consulting owner Stephan Botes, and Botes' employee Peter Steyn.

But the defense strategy, made clear from the start of the trial on Monday, is to cast blame on a cast of lesser characters, from a political consultant to an accountant to Schrenko's lover, who have either pleaded guilty or are not charged with any wrongdoing.

The differences in the clashing narratives, which are finally coming out after being doled out piecemeal for months, are not merely academic.

At the heart of the case is the government's contention that Schrenko, Botes and Steyn knew exactly what was happening as $600,000 in federal education grants flowed out of the state Department of Education, with about half going to Botes' companies and the rest going for Schrenko's campaign and personal expenses.

THE GOVERNMENT'S CASE

For the prosecution, 2002 marked a period when the interests of Schrenko and Botes were converging. Computer Consulting was falling on hard economic times. Schrenko was running an unsuccessful, cash-starved campaign for the GOP nomination for governor.

So Merle Temple, a Schrenko deputy who served as the "shadow campaign manager," joined the three defendants and several others in an audacious scheme, lead prosecutor Russell Vineyard said.

Temple and Schrenko funneled money from the Department of Education to Botes' company, where the businessman, Steyn and other Computer Consulting officials kicked some of the funds back to Schrenko's campaign, Vineyard said.

Schrenko's fate in the gubernatorial race hinged on swaying undecided voters. That meant television time and other expensive campaign activities.

"The Schrenko campaign needed money to try to win over those undecided voters," Vineyard said.

After Schrenko lost the Aug. 20 primary, "the secret scheme began to unravel," Vineyard said.

THE TEACHER

Schrenko's attorney, Pete Theodocion,, said his client began her career as a hard-working teacher, arriving at school as early as 7 a.

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