- The Washington Times - Friday, November 26, 2004

BALTIMORE (AP) — Federal investigators are reviewing a partnership between three companies and a national organization of educators in which Prince George’s County Schools CEO Andre J. Hornsby has played a major role.

The partnership is under scrutiny in a two-year Justice Department antitrust probe into attempts by technology companies to defraud the E-rate program, which since 1998 has collected $8 billion in telephone taxes to pay for Internet connections in schools and libraries.

Under the partnership, the National Alliance of Black School Educators (NABSE) steered poor school districts looking for help in securing E-rate funding to the NEC-Business Network Solutions, Video Network Communications Inc. and IBM.

According to testimony and documents presented at a recent congressional hearing, the companies agreed to give the alliance a 1.5 percent commission on the districts’ E-rate purchases — which amounted to at least $70,000 for NABSE — that regulators said violated E-rate rules.

Once NABSE had linked the technology companies to the school districts, at least two of the companies won no-bid contracts to do E-rate work and filed inflated bills for millions of dollars of equipment, much of which was ineligible for funding, according to the testimony.

No NABSE leaders have been charged in the Justice Department investigation, which is separate from state and federal inquiries into Mr. Hornsby’s dealings with education software firms in Prince George’s County.

But in May, federal prosecutors obtained a guilty plea to wire fraud and collusion from NEC, which paid a $20.6 million fine for attempts to defraud the E-rate program in San Francisco and for rigging bids in five other districts, including several where it had been recommended by NABSE.

NABSE officials defended the organization against charges of E-rate abuse at the organization’s annual convention in Dallas last week. Mr. Hornsby, who was president-elect of the 6,000-member group in 2000 and 2001, declined to be interviewed at the convention.

The FBI and the Maryland U.S. Attorney’s Office reportedly are looking into Mr. Hornsby’s dealings with education vendors.

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