WADSWORTH / BLADE Enlarge
The money Dan Burns accumulated in his state pension for more than 30 years of working within the public schools system will be used to repay the hundreds of thousands of dollars he stole, a Lucas County Common Pleas Court judge has ordered.
Judge Ruth Ann Franks issued an opinion late Thursday granting the Toledo Public Schools request that the $658,428 in restitution owed would be withheld from Burns’ approximate $5,500 monthly pension payout. The decision was handed down six months after the former business manager was sentenced to 10 years in prison for the theft.
TPS Superintendent Jerome Pecko said the district was pleased by the decision, but he is somewhat cautious as to how much the district will recover. “It’s encouraging and it gives us an opportunity to be made whole financially,” he said, noting that the damage done was more than just in dollars. “... There was a period of time where there was distrust in the district; it took some time to regain the trust of the community.”
Burns, now at Marion Correctional Institution, entered an Alford plea Dec. 13 to one count each of engaging in a pattern of corrupt activity, theft in office, and tampering with records. He was convicted for his role in a scheme that defrauded the school district between 2002 and 2006.
As part of his sentence, Burns was ordered to pay $658,428 in restitution, to be divided among the two insurance companies that reimbursed the school district and the district itself. The district’s share was $52,429 for the money it had not been able to recoup.
At a March hearing, Burns’ attorney acknowledged that it was the defense’s burden to show “good cause” as to why an order should not be issued. Included in his argument, attorney Stephen Hartman asked the judge to consider the financial burden that would be placed on Burns’ minor daughter and wife, who testified at the hearing.
In her 21-page opinion, Judge Franks said that Burns was not able to establish good cause in each of the four points raised.
“This court certainly understands the sympathetic argument defendant makes, but it is the law that this court is sworn to uphold,” the opinion stated. “If the legislature had intended to allow consideration of the financial impact on the family of the defendant, whose criminal acts resulted in the theft of hundreds of thousands of dollars, the legislature would have indicated so. The court finds the language of the statute clear and unambiguous.”
The judge also disagreed that Burns should only be found liable for the $52,429 not paid for by insurance, noting that the defendant agreed to full restitution at his plea.
Burns and co-conspirator John Briggle were convicted of orchestrating a scheme in which Briggle’s printing company, Superior Offset Supplies, billed the school district for thousands of dollars’ worth of supplies and services that were not delivered.
The two men continued the scheme in Cleveland, where both have been convicted and sentenced to prison.
Portions of the Cleveland conviction since have been reversed by the Eighth District Court of Appeals, as was the restitution order in that case. In response, Mr. Hartman filed a motion for reconsideration claiming inconsistencies in the appellate court’s decision.
The court has not decided whether to reconsider their ruling.
Mr. Hartman said Judge Franks’ decision was “well-reasoned,” but he said he is considering a possible appeal.
“It’s possible that one of the arguments will provide grounds for appeal, but I have to evaluate that more closely before making that decision,” he said.
Burns began his career with TPS in the print shop and worked his way up to the business office. He was promoted to chief business manager of the district in July, 2003, a position he held until June, 2006, when he retired and moved to Cleveland Public Schools.
Burns’ state pension — which he grew over his 30-year career — is accessible to TPS because he was convicted of theft in office.
In May, TPS filed a civil lawsuit in Common Pleas Court requesting actual and compensatory damages as well as the costs associated with the special audit and attorneys’ fees. Earlier this month, the court granted the school’s motion and thereby awarded the school a judgment in the amount of $659,999.
Contact Erica Blake at: firstname.lastname@example.org or 419-213-2134.