Jury still deliberating former BH superintendent’s embezzlement case

NOW: Jury still deliberating former BH superintendent’s embezzlement case

BERRIEN COUNTY, Mich. -- A verdict has not yet been reached in the case against former Benton Harbor Area Schools Superintendent Dr. Leonard Seawood.

The prosecution and defense presented their closing arguments on Thursday morning after bringing 11 witnesses to the stand between Tuesday and Wednesday.

Berrien County Assistant Prosecutor Amy Byrd said over and over again that Seawood knew the terms of his contract – including the part that said he could only receive a cash payout for five unused vacation days each year – but she said he chose to ignore it.

Byrd said Seawood made the district work for him by taking a payout of more than $45,000 for dozens of unused vacation days over a 4-year period.

She said he intended to sneakily put more money in his pocket, even while the district drowned in debt.

“One person knew the terms of that contract – it was his contract,” Byrd said, referring to Seawood. “One person instituted, in each one of these cases, initiated payment for more than he was entitled to. One person – one person benefitted from these actions. And in all cases, that person is the defendant.”

Seawood’s attorney said it was impossible to prove every element of the charges leveled against his client – which include embezzlement and obtaining money by false pretenses – because that would mean intent was obvious.

Attorney Heath Lynch argued that very few working professionals know every word of their employment contract.

He said Dr. Seawood was focusing on keeping the district up and running.

“You’ve been asked to believe that this man, who came back to try to bring a little bit of order from the chaos in his hometown school district, put all this together in the dark of night and pulled the wool over everyone’s eyes,” Lynch said to the jury. “Ask yourself how much sense that makes? And ask yourself, what evidence did you really see of any of that?”

The defense said Seawood did not pressure anyone in the district to break any rules for him.

They said he ‘reasonably’ ‘relied’ on the human resources staff to keep track of his vacation days.

The jury started deliberating at 12:30 p.m. on Thursday.

They were brought back into the courtroom twice to get answers to questions they had – including re-listening to the prosecution’s cross examination of Seawood from Wednesday.

Just before 6 p.m. on Thursday, the jury decided to pause deliberating.

They will return to court on Friday at 8:30 a.m.  

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