School founder gets prison time for theft

The founder of a private, government-funded school in the District was sentenced to a year in prison yesterday and faces possible deportation for his role in a scheme to steal computers from the Gateway Inc. computer plant in Virginia.

Charles Emor, executive director of the SunRise Academy, broke down in tears as he apologized and sought a sentence of home confinement from U.S. District Judge James Robertson in federal court in the District.

But Judge Robertson replied, “Actions have consequences and right is right and wrong is wrong.”

The sentence may affect Emor’s immigration status. He came to the country from Nigeria legally in 1983, but defense attorney Danny Onorato said the criminal case could prompt immigration officials to kick Emor out of the country.

SunRise describes itself as a private day school for children with special needs. The school bills the District $650,000 per month, according to court records. With Emor controlling its finances, the school also had more than a dozen real estate holdings, prosecutors say.

Yesterday, prosecutors argued that Emor’s financial holdings cast doubt on his argument that he stole the computers for his school’s computer lab.

“If the school had money to buy real estate holdings, he has enough money for computers,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Sherri Schornstein said.

Emor was the only one of the five defendants charged in the probe not to take a plea deal. He was convicted after a three-day jury trial in December.

Prosecutors say the scam began in 1998, when Emor’s friend told him of a contact who could steal computers from Gateway’s computer plant in Hampton, Va. Emor received about 70 computers, some costing up to $3,000 each.

Some computers went to SunRise Academy on the 1100 block of Sixth Street in Northwest, but investigators said Emor also sold many of the computers.

Miss Schornstein urged Judge Robertson not to go easy on Emor because he founded the SunRise Academy.

“What he’s done can’t be a license to commit a crime,” she said.

She also said concerns raised by Emor’s attorney about possible deportation shouldn’t be a major consideration at the sentencing.

“He’s sort of been his own worst enemy,” she said of Emor. “Surely he knew … he could be deported. It’s a ramification of his own creation.”

Defense attorney Danny C. Onorato said his client “has a heart of gold” and never would have taken the computers for his school if he had money to buy them.

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