September 11, 2006
A scheme to steal more than $600,000 of federal education money cleared one of its last legal hurdles in a federal courtroom today.
News 12's Laurie Ott was the only local reporter there, and she has details you won't see anywhere else...including how News 12's initial investigation in November of 2003 played a part in uncovering the scheme.
On the same day Linda Schrenko, the former state school superintendent, started serving her 8-year sentence in a Tallahassee Federal Prison, her former deputy superintendent, co-defendant and lover appeared before a federal judge to be sentenced for his crimes.
Merle Temple, the man Linda Schrenko testified was a self-declared puppet master, showed up to the Atlanta Federal Courthouse without his wife, but with his attorney.
"I want to tell you I accept full responsibility," he told Judge Clarence Cooper. "I'm not here to play victim. I can't say I fully understand it."
Temple then asked the judge to recommend the Edgefield prison so he could stay close to home and his wife of 37 years.
Judge Cooper then sentenced Temple to 8 years and one month in prison, saying he chose the lighter side of the guidelines because of the testimony of Temple's psychiatrist of 15 years, who said Temple has obsessive-compulsive disorder.
Temple's attorney John Garcia also told the judge Temple had cooperated with prosecutors, giving them two political witnesses, one of which left office as a result of this investigation. During the trial, Linda Schrenko testified Rep. Sue Burmeister had taken cash from Temple and funneled it back into Schrenko's gubernatorial campaign.
Later in the afternoon, Judge Cooper also sentenced South African businessman Stephan Botes to 8 years and one month in prison for his part in the scheme.
"In the end, as Judge Cooper said, this was an egregious breach of public trust and the sentence reflects that," Asst. US Attorney Dan Caldwell said.
And here's what prosecutor Russell Vineyard said about the case, and News 12's reporting of it:
"I think the investigative reporting you did was a great asset to us during this case. I know I went back and watched your reports several times and picked up bits and pieces. Each time I watched it I got a little more out of it...and it's great investigative reporting and what investigative reporting should be."
After Temple's sentencing was over, Temple said he hoped to teach or tutor fellow inmates in prison...something he shares in common now with his former lover and co-defendant Linda Schrenko.