ATLANTA - The case against former state school Superintendent Linda Schrenko might have gotten tougher for her to dispute Wednesday with the guilty plea of a computer executive who admitted to delivering $32,000 in cash to the manager of her gubernatorial campaign.
Johnathan Turner, 36, of Barnesville, Ga., pleaded guilty to one count of criminal information. He was the chief financial officer of computer companies owned by Mrs. Schrenko's co-defendant, Stephan Botes.
Mrs. Schrenko's lawyer, Pete Theodocion, called Mr. Turner's plea a common tactic of federal prosecutors as a way to give the impression that no one is getting off free, even government witnesses.
"We've anticipated that from the start," Mr. Theodocion said, predicting other guilty pleas would be forthcoming.
Confronting witnesses who have already been judged guilty can be tricky for defense attorneys because it's harder to convince jurors their damaging testimony is given in exchange for lenient punishment.
He said Mr. Turner's plea doesn't change Mrs. Schrenko's contention that she committed no wrongdoing.
"Whatever he pled to and whatever he did was activity that my client had nothing to do with. ... That doesn't change our position whatsoever," he said.
Mr. Turner admitted he wrote company checks that he and other company employees cashed so that he could deliver the money to Merle Temple over breakfast in an Atlanta hotel July 27, 2002. Mr. Temple then drove to Tupelo, Miss., where he deposited some of the cash into his mother's account, according to the indictment. Mr. Temple managed Mrs. Schrenko's unsuccessful campaign and was indicted with her last month.
Mrs. Schrenko, Mr. Botes and Mr. Temple have all pleaded not guilty and are free on bond waiting for trial dates to be set.
The 18-count federal indictment alleges that the trio conspired to use Mrs. Schrenko's authority as superintendent to issue 11 contracts to five computer companies controlled by Mr. Botes. But instead of performing any work, prosecutors allege Mr. Botes saw to it that $100,000 of the money ended up in her campaign. It also charges that some of it went to personal expenses, including a face-lift for the superintendent.
U.S. Attorney David E. Nahmias praised Mr. Turner's plea as significant.
"This case is an excellent example of the diligent work by law enforcement in following those who structure financial transactions to circumvent federal law," he said. "Following the money used in structured transactions often exposes even more serious crimes."
Reach Walter Jones at (404) 589-8424 or firstname.lastname@example.org.