VERDICT: Jury finds former Benton Harbor superintendent guilty
BENTON HARBOR —
Guilty is the verdict for Leonard Seawood. The former Benton Harbor Schools superintendent was just convicted of embezzlement and obtaining money under false pretenses.
The prosecutor says Seawood accepted too many payouts for vacation time. As part of his contract, Seawood was entitled to 25 vacation days. If he didn't use them all, he could sell back up to five.
Prosecutors say Seawood sold back 90 days during his tenure. They say justice has finally been served.
Seawood and his attorneys were not expecting the guilty verdict.
"We are obviously disappointed,” said Heath Lynch, defense attorney. “But we respect the process. We maintain Dr. Seawood’s innocence.”
Seawood's defense team -- Lynch and Matt Borgula -- say their client didn't have any motive.
"The fact is he wasn't greedy,” said Lynch. “He's not greedy. He had the money that he needed."
Lynch says the district had checks and balances in place. For Seawood to sell back vacation time, he had to fill out forms, which needed to be signed and checked by a school board member.
"I think there were people that misunderstood his intention, misunderstood the process, misunderstood the terms of his contract and now he's been convicted of offenses we believe should have never been charged,” said Lynch.
But Prosecutor Amy Byrd says the board had tremendous trust in Seawood. She says he abused that trust.
"When you're dealing with a case involving a lot of people who took advantage of trust, people who took advantage of that system, it's good the truth was uncovered -- and the jury saw that," said Byrd.
Byrd told the jury the school district lost more than $46,000 in payments to Seawood, but it wasn't the only victim. Byrd told WSBT the verdict is, "justice for the students who were overlooked under his administration."
Now Seawood will have to wait until the end of January to be served the rest of his justice.
“Dr. Seawood gets to go home,” said Lynch. “He gets to be with his family. He gets to process the result, which is obviously disappointing to him and to all the people that were there supporting him in the courtroom today."
The embezzlement charge has a potential sentence of up to 10 years in prison. The false pretense charges each carry up to 5 years behind bars.
Seawood's attorneys weren't sure yet whether they would seek appeal. Lynch said the choice would depend on results of sentencing, and would be up to Seawood himself.