School corruption sentence coming to end

Prison time is nearly up for Merle Temple Jr., the man who conspired with former state School Superintendent Linda Schrenko to siphon off $600,000 in federal education money to cover a face-lift for Schrenko and her failed bid for governor.

With credit for time he spent in jail, Temple, 63, is scheduled for release from a federal prison in Talladega, Ala., on Dec. 1, nine months ahead of Schrenko, his former boss and lover.

The two worked at the Georgia Department of Education — Schrenko as state school superintendent and Temple as deputy superintendent — and plotted what became one of the most-watched corruption cases in recent years, one that led to policy changes still in place at the DOE.

Schrenko decided to parlay her newfound notoriety as the state’s first Republican and first female state superintendent into a 2002 run for governor, with Temple acting, according to prosecutors, as her “shadow campaign manager.”

But in summer 2002, the two conspired with Alpharetta resident Stephen Botes, owner of a computer consulting firm, to fraudulently obtain $600,000 in federal funds that were administered through the DOE. Evidence, prosecutors said, showed Schrenko personally ordered checks written to companies owned and controlled by Botes that were just under the $50,000 limit requiring state school board approval.

The money, instead of going to computer services for the Atlanta Area School for the Deaf, the Georgia School for the Deaf and the Governor’s Honors Program, went to Schrenko’s failed gubernatorial campaign and other expenses, including the face-lift costing $9,300.

Temple pleaded guilty in 2005 to charges of conspiracy, theft of federal funds and wire fraud.

Schrenko initially pleaded innocent to the charges. But she changed her plea at trial in 2006 and was later given an eight-year sentence for embezzlement and money laundering. She is in a medium-security prison in Central Florida, 50 miles northwest of Orlando, and due for release on Aug. 29, 2013.

Temple declined to be interviewed for this article.

On his Facebook page and personal website, Temple gives some glimpse into his life post-sentencing. He says he remarried in 2010, three years after the death of his wife, Susan.

He says he has a prison ministry, called Prisoners of the Lord, and he expects to spend his remaining years serving Jesus Christ. He credits Jesus with showing him that “right with God” is “all that matters.”

After the revelations about Schrenko and Temple, the DOE created a task force to find ways to improve internal financial controls, seeking extra input from the U.S. Department of Education.

Among the changes that occurred was creation of a special budget committee of the state school board. Committee members are tasked with reviewing all grant and contract approvals. Gov. Sonny Perdue, who defeated Schrenko in the GOP gubernatorial primary in 2002, appointed a forensic auditor to the committee, said Randy Trowel, DOE finance director.

Botes is in prison in Arizona and due to be released June 2, 2013, a spokesman for the U.S. Bureau of Prisons said.

Temple paid $199,500 in restitution. He was described at sentencing by then-U.S. Attorney David E. Nahmias as someone who “placed greed and political gain ahead of his duties to serve the citizens of Georgia.”