Former Benton Harbor superintendent sentenced to jail time for embezzlement

Published: Jan. 31, 2018 at 7:41 AM EST
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Dr. Leonard Seawood, the former Benton Harbor Area Schools superintendent, was sentenced to 90 days in jail for embezzlement Wednesday afternoon.

He's also been ordered to pay nearly $50,000 in restitution.

At a time when Benton Harbor teachers saw pay cuts, investigators say Dr. Seawood improperly took money by being paid for his vacation days.

Dr. Seawood faced up to 40 years in prison after being convicted of five counts of embezzlement. Investigators say during his time at Benton Harbor, Dr. Seawood improperly sold back several weeks' worth of paid vacation. His contract allowed him 25 paid days off a year.

In court on Wednesday, judge Donna Howard argued that in the past eight years, Dr. Seawood had several chances to come clean and admit the mistake, but never did.

“I gave my all and I'd do it again in a heartbeat,” Dr. Seawood said. “Because that's my community and I felt I could make a difference.”

“What your salary was for that job under those circumstances was a lot of money,” Judge Donna Howard said. “And to take more money in the way that you did, you had multiple opportunities. And even when you did it again and again and again.”

Judge Howard denied an appeal for Dr. Seawood's attorney.

Seawood will spend five years on probation and must pay back nearly $50,000.

Former Benton Harbor schools superintendent found guilty
Dec. 15, 2017 by Maria Catanzarite ST. JOSEPH, Mich. (WNDU) Dr. Leonard Seawood has been found guilty of all counts of embezzlement and obtaining money by false pretenses. The former superintendent of Benton Harbor Area Schools was convicted of embezzling more than $46,000 in vacation payout money. "We think there was sufficient checks and balances in place, that if anyone was trying to cheat and defraud the system would have been caught," said Heath Lynch, Seawood's attorney along with Matthew Borgula. During Seawood's tenure, he found Benton Harbor Area Schools in financial chaos. After initiating teacher pay cuts in December 2011, prosecutors say Seawood vowed to take the same 10 percent cut to his salary while compensating with excessive vacation payouts. "We don’t think it was a function of any kind of nefarious intent on Dr. Seawood’s part. We believe it was, frankly, the process working the way it was supposed to, where a person who had a benefit tried to vindicate his rights under his employment agreement, got permission from the (school) board to do what we did," said Lynch. "Again, we maintain his innocence." Berrien Co. Assistant Prosecutor Amy Byrd, who tried the case, was unavailable for comment. Sentencing is set for January 29. If Seawood receives the maximum sentences for all five counts, he faces 40 years in prison. Dec. 12: Trial begins for former Benton Harbor superintendent Dec. 13: Former Benton Harbor superintendent takes stand in trial Dec. 14: Jury begins deliberations in trial of former Benton Harbor schools' superintendent