Former Benton Harbor superintendent found guilty of all charges
BERRIEN COUNTY, Mich. -- A jury found former Benton Harbor Area Schools Superintendent Dr. Leonard Seawood guilty of five charges of misusing school funds on Friday.
“We the jury find, in count one, guilty,” a juror said, before continuing to read ‘guilty’ for four other charges.
Seawood sat silently in the courtroom late Friday morning, clasping his hands and keeping his lips locked. He was visibly upset after the first ‘guilty’ was read aloud.
“We’re obviously disappointed,” said Heath Lynch, Seawood’s attorney. “While we respect the process, we maintain Dr. Seawood’s innocence.”
A jury of six men and six women delivered their verdict after eight and a half hours of deliberation between Thursday afternoon and Friday morning.
The case was handed over to the jury on Thursday afternoon after three days of trial that included 10 witnesses, plus testimony from Seawood himself.
“He wasn’t greedy. He’s not greedy,” Lynch said of his client. “He had the money that he needed. We still fail to see any motive to do something like this. We think that there were sufficient checks and balances in place – that anybody who was really trying to defraud the system and cheat the system would’ve been caught.”
The charges stemmed from his taking seven cash payouts for unused vacation days during his time as Benton Harbor Area Schools superintendent.
The payouts came out to over $46,000.
The prosecution said Seawood intentionally defrauded and cheated his alma mater, which he had returned home for to lead.
Berrien County Assistant Prosecutor Amy Byrd said during the trial that Seawood ignored a rule in his contract that said he could only be paid for five unused vacation days each year.
But Seawood’s legal team said he was just looking to be paid for his work. They argue he could rarely take a vacation because of unending chaos in the district.
“I think there were people that misunderstood his intentions, misunderstood the process, misunderstood the terms of his contract,” Lynch said. “And now he’s been convicted of offenses that we believe should’ve never been charged. But again, we respect the process.”
The jury had to unanimously agree that Seawood intended to defraud and cheat the Benton Harbor Area Schools District when he took the cash payouts.
He will be sentenced on January 29 at 1:30 p.m.
In the meantime, he is allowed to live at home with his family.
The five felonies combined carry a maximum penalty of several decades in prison.
Prosecutor Byrd was not available for comment after the trial ended.