Schmitz found guilty in Decatur corruption trial

Published 11:14 pm Tuesday, February 24, 2009

DECATUR — A federal jury convicted state Rep. Sue Schmitz on seven felony fraud charges in her second trial Tuesday, automatically removing the north Alabama Democrat from her seat in the Legislature.

Schmitz, of Toney in Madison County, was accused of getting paid more than $177,000 from the federally funded Community Intensive Training for Youth program and doing little or no work over three years.

The nine-woman, three-man jury began deliberating Monday afternoon but stopped after a member developed a sinus headache. That juror was replaced Tuesday and deliberations went on for about 41⁄2 hours until a verdict was reached.

Schmitz, 64, faces a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison and a fine of $250,000 for each of three counts of mail fraud and as long as 10 years in prison and a fine of up to $250,000 for each of four counts of fraud involving a program receiving federal funds.

She was acquitted of a single count of mail fraud.

Schmitz left the federal courthouse crying, surrounded by family and friends.

Defense attorney Buck Watson said Schmitz led a “spectacular life” as an educator and didn’t have a spot on her record until now. He said he believes she had no criminal intent and an appeal of the verdict is likely.

Assistant U.S. Attorney David Estes said prosecutors had “great faith” in the evidence against Schmitz despite a mistrial in September at her first trial. “She put her credibility in front of the jury and they rejected it,” he said.

Schmitz remains on bond until her sentencing, which U.S. District Judge David Proctor said would be in about 90 days.

Prosecutors accused Schmitz of using political connections to secure a community relations job with the CITY program, which is run by the Alabama Community College System, in February 2003. They said she did not do much to earn the salary she received from then until October 2006.

Schmitz said she did work that included garnering support for the program from corporate donors and legislators. She testified she received little direction or cooperation from supervisors or CITY site managers.

The retired high school teacher is the latest legislator to be tried and convicted during an ongoing investigation into corruption in the state’s two-year college system.

“This trial pointed out exactly why double-dipping must be banned,” said Gov. Bob Riley, a Republican who has pushed to end the practice of legislators holding jobs elsewhere in state government.

“This trial exposed an entrenched, systemic and corrupt power structure that needs to be destroyed, that must be destroyed, and that will only be destroyed if the Legislature will ban double-dipping.”

In September, the jury deadlocked 11-1 for conviction on at least one count of the indictment, forcing the retrial.

Rep. Jack Page, D-Gadsden, said he was surprised and disappointed that Schmitz was convicted.

“I’m shocked and saddened,” Page said. “This is not the same justice system I taught about when I was teaching school.”

Speaker Seth Hammett, D-Andalusia, the House leader who had testified at her trial about getting money put into a budget for Schmitz’s job with the CITY program, declined comment.

House majority leader Rep. Ken Guin, D-Carbon Hill said he was saddened by the verdict.

“Sue Schmitz is one of the kindest, gentlest of women I’ve ever had the privilege of knowing I am saddened for her, saddened for her family,” Guin said.