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Monday, June 17, 2024 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

Resentencing Needed for School Board Fraudster

CHICAGO (CN) - A woman who steered $21 million worth of busing contracts to companies that paid her kickbacks must be resentenced, the Seventh Circuit ruled.

Gloria Harper pleaded guilty to abusing her position on the board of North Chicago Public Schools by accepting kickbacks of more than $500,000 from bus companies to which she steered transportation contracts worth $21 million between 2001 and 2010.

In addition to 120 months in prison, U.S. District Judge Sharon Johnson Coleman ordered Harper to pay the school district $7.2 million in restitution and to serve a year of supervised release.

Sentencing guidelines meanwhile called for a prison term of 360 months to life, and the government claimed that the benefit to the fraudsters in exchange had been higher - $9.7 million.

The Chicago Tribune reported that Judge Coleman sympathetic to Harper at last year's sentencing hearing but grew weary of the defendant's protracted rationalizations of her behavior.

"When you repeat an offense over and over for nine years, it isn't stupidity anymore," Coleman said as 63-year-old Harper wept, the Tribune reported. "That's greed, pure greed."

The prosecutor told the court a tough sentence was necessary "to convey to people out there that they need to pay for their crimes," according to the Tribune.

Chucking the sentence on appeal, the Seventh Circuit found last week that Coleman failed to explain why she wanted Harper to serve the federal prison term after the defendant served a separate sentence that Harper faces in Louisiana.

"A judge who must choose between imposing a sentence consecutively to or concurrently with another sentence should state the reason for her choice, as for the other choices made in sentencing," Judge Richard Posner wrote for a three-person panel.

The appellate court also found that Coleman may have thought it mandatory for Harper to serve a term of supervised release after getting out of prison.

"Supervised release is mandatory for certain crimes, but not for the ones the defendant in this case was convicted of," Posner wrote. "And when as in this case some of the conditions are discretionary the sentencing judge must give a reason for the imposition of each such condition that he or she imposes. The judge didn't do that. Moreover, the written judgment imposes 13 conditions of supervised release that she didn't mention at the sentencing hearing. That was a mistake; the entire sentence is the sentence stated orally by the judge at the sentencing hearing

term that she mandatory."

In light of these errors, Harper must face a full resentencing.

"After correcting the conditions of supervised release to conform to the analysis in this opinion, the judge may decide that the prison sentence she imposed was too long or too short and if so she will have to revise it," Posner wrote. "We also remind the judge that the entire sentence must be delivered orally."

Harper received the unrelated Louisiana sentence in 2012.

The FBI says she was convicted received a 2 1/2-year sentence in that case for defrauding the federal E-Rate program that funds education technology.

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