Linda Schrenko wants her money (and her health) back
By JIM WALLS
Dec. 15, 2011 — Linda Schrenko, Georgia’s disgraced ex-school superintendent, says the feds owe her $195,000 taken as partial restitution for the money she stole from deaf kids.
The Justice Department took the money in an illegal garnishment, latching on to all of her $4,500 monthly pension payments when it was only entitled to 25 percent, Schrenko’s attorney, former U.S. Rep. and Libertarian presidential candidate Bob Barr, argued in a brief filed Monday.
Barr has also been been in court recently pushing for an outside medical exam to support a claim that Schrenko, 62, has been denied proper medical care in prison. Schrenko suffers from sleep apnea, with a high risk for stroke or heart attack, and is in “a severely debilitated state of health,” her attorneys said in court papers.
U.S. District Judge Clarence Cooper, ruling she had not exhausted administrative remedies, in September rejected Schrenko’s request for taxpayers to foot the bill for a battery of tests at Emory University Hospital.
Schrenko, a two-term superintendent, pleaded guilty in 2006 to embezzlement and money laundering for diverting more than $500,000 in federal grant funds intended for two schools for the deaf and the Governor’s Honors Program. Sentenced to eight years in prison, she is set to be released in August 2013.
About half the diverted funds were redirected to Schrenko’s 2002 campaign for governor, plus $9,300 more for a facelift. She finished second in the GOP primary that year to the eventual winner, Sonny Perdue.
Using her maiden name, Linda Ruth Covington, Schrenko sought bankruptcy protection in 2005, eventually winning discharge of $361,000 in debts. The feds have been collecting her retirement checks since 2006, accumulating more than $260,000 as of September, according to court documents.
Barr contends that Schrenko was never properly notified in 2006 of the proposed garnishment and therefore never had a chance to object. The notice was sent to an old address, two weeks after she had reported to a federal prison in Florida, and to an attorney who no longer represented her, Barr said in court documents.
Even if notice had been handled properly, Barr argues that federal law only allows garnishment of 25 percent of a debtor’s wages. That argument depends on a finding that pension benefits are wages — an interpretation, Barr acknowledged, on which federal judges have come down on both sides.
In court papers, Barr also complained that the feds have done nothing to collect restitution from Schrenko’s co-defendant, Stephan Botes:
“This obligation (the restitution Order) was joint and several with Co-Defendant Stephen Botes, but the United States has made no effort to collect any of the principal from Botes. The United States comes into the United States District Court for the Northern District of Georgia with unclean hands in that no effort of any nature was made to collect from Botes, but only from Defendant Schrenko due to her mandated state retirement contributions, which were seen as ‘easy pickings’ for the government.”