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Former Benton Harbor superintendent gets jail time, probation

BERRIEN COUNTY, Mich. -- A judge sentenced Dr. Leonard Seawood to 90 days in jail, five years of probation, and is ordering the former Benton Harbor Area Schools superintendent to pay the district back $46,000.

“You lost your way and forgot to be humble when you needed to ask for help,” Judge Donna Howard told Seawood on Wednesday afternoon.

The Berrien County judge had a message for Seawood before sentencing him: You failed to be humble and upfront with the district you were leading.

In December, a jury found Seawood guilty of five charges of embezzlement and obtaining money under false pretenses.

He had taken cash payouts worth $46,000 for illegitimate unused vacation days during his years as Benton Harbor’s superintendent.

“I thought I was making the right procedures when I approached my [school] board presidents about that opportunity involving my vacation pay,” Seawood said Wednesday, moments before being sentenced. “Looking back, I never would have made that choice.”

Judge Howard said things would have been different had Seawood approached getting paid for unused vacation days differently.

“Then you would’ve been coming forward publicly,” she said. “You would’ve sat down and been humble with those commissioners in an open meeting, or in a meeting where there was more than one. You’re not running into a school when somebody’s boxing up old books in a closed school saying, ‘Here, sign this piece of paper.’”

Seawood will now serve 90 days in jail before being on probation for five years.

He also has to pay the district back the $46,000 he took payouts for.

Before he was sentenced on Wednesday, Benton Harbor School Board member Martha Momany delivered a strong message to the judge about Seawood.

“Please do not take pity on him because he supposedly worked hard or because he’s got a PhD,” Momany said. “There are many, many other employees that worked just as hard or harder and have high educations, but they knew what their contracts said, and they followed their contracts.”

Momany had testified during the trial.

She’s a current school board member and a former board president.

During Seawood’s tenure, Momany was one of several board presidents Seawood had sign a form that ended up allowing him to get the cash payouts, even though he knew it was technically violating his contract.

Seawood’s attorney said in court on Wednesday that Seawood maintains his innocence and plans to appeal.

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