Former Baltimore County schools Superintendent Dallas Dance asks for probation instead of jail time

Liz Bowie
Contact ReporterThe Baltimore Sun

Former Baltimore County School Superintendent Dallas Dance is asking a judge to give him probation rather than jail time for failing to disclose nearly $147,000 he earned from part-time consulting jobs.

In a sentencing memo filed by his attorneys, Dance is portrayed as taking responsibility for his behavior, and feeling “deep regret and repentance.”

Dance pleaded guilty in circuit court last month to four counts of perjury for failing to disclose the outside income in his annual financial disclosure reports. He did not disclose that he worked for other companies and organizations, including a company that was awarded a no-bid contract with the school system.

He is scheduled to be sentenced on Friday, his 37th birthday.

Prosecutors have recommended a sentence of five years, with 18 months spent in jail. In a memo filed Wednesday, they argued that Dance has harmed the county.

“Honest and hard-working administrators and teachers now inherit the disillusionment, negative example and lack of trust in authority that his dishonesty has likely created within the student body and the parent community,” they wrote.

Dance agreed to a statement of facts laid out by prosecutors in a Baltimore County courtroom on March 8 that described him as a public official who went to lengths to hide and lie about his payments from SUPES Academy, a now-defunct Illinois based administrative training company. In their memo Wednesday, the prosecutors called Dance’s actions “a continuous pattern of deliberate deceit and dishonest behavior that extended over a period of time.”

Dance’s attorneys, Andrew Graham and Michelle Lipkowitz, rebut some of the assertions in their 45-page sentencing memo. They pushed back against the prosecutors’ assertion that Dance manipulated the purchasing rules to get SUPES Academy an $875,000 no-bid contract with the school system soon after he was hired in 2012.

The lawyers say the contract followed county policy without interference from Dance.

Prosecutors said in March that Dance vowed to a SUPES official that he would fire a Baltimore County school system employee if necessary to get SUPES a contract. The company began paying Dance as a consultant the month before the board approved the contract. It eventually paid him $90,000.

Dance’s attorneys also say that a claim by SUPES officials that Dance had asked them “to keep me as busy as you can,” because he had divorced recently and needed the money, was false. Lawyers say Dance’s income was enough to make his child support payments. When Dance left the job last year, he was earning $287,000 a year.

Dance’s attorneys say a jail sentence would serve no purpose because Dance has already lost a high-profile job, his career and his standing in the community.

They described news coverage of the case as “painfully humiliating to Dance.” They say he could perform community service work, if the judge deems it necessary.

Sixty-nine friends, family and professional colleagues have written to the judge asking for leniency for Dance. They include his mother and his ex-wife, college friends, and fellow educators in Virginia and Houston, where he worked before coming to Baltimore County. They include students he has mentored and those who mentored him, including Freeman A. Hrabowski III, president of the University of Maryland, Baltimore County. At least four pastors, in churches from Richmond, Va., Houston and Baltimore, also wrote on his behalf. They included Bishop Walter S. Thomas at New Psalmist Baptist Church in Northwest Baltimore, where Dance was a member.

The supporters describe Dance as a man who was always working, but also went to great lengths to help friends and mentor young people. Friends wrote that he had made a difference in their lives by giving advice at crucial junctures.

Hrabowski wrote that he would “put Dr. Dance among the most effective academic leaders in helping to close the achievement gap.”

“After many conversations and opportunities to observe him, I feel comfortable saying I consider him a fundamentally honest person,” Hrabowski wrote. He said he believed Dance sincerely regretted the mistakes he made and would never do the same again.

Thomas wrote to the judge: “I ask that you see him through the long lens of his accomplishment. He is a good man with much to offer.”

Dance’s ex-wife, Sherita Burrell Dance, wrote that they remain close despite their divorce. She argued that their 8-year-old son, Myles, needs his father, and that sending him to jail would also have “devastating collateral consequences” on Dance’s parents, who are in poor health and depend on him for support.

There were no messages of support from current county school officials or politicians.

Dance left his job last July and returned to Richmond, where his son and parents live. He purchased a house in the suburbs and began an education consulting firm.

In their sentencing memo, Dance’s lawyers say he was a precocious student who was raised by his mother and grandmother. Studious and always juggling multiple outside interests, Dance finished high school in three years, graduating as valedictorian. He went on to Virginia Union University and graduated summa cum laude in three years. He began teaching in Henrico County, Va., at age 20. At 24, he became the youngest principal in Virginia history, the lawyers say.

By 2011, Dance was in charge of the middle schools in Houston, and was in a SUPES Academy training program to prepare him to become a superintendent. Those training programs were taught by superintendents, which included Chicago’s Barbara Byrd-Bennett and Baltimore County’s Joseph A. Hairston. Byrd-Bennett would later be convicted of wire fraud for steering contracts to SUPES Academy in exchange for a promise of $2.3 million in kickbacks. She and two SUPES officials are now in prison.

Prosecutors say that once Dance was chosen to become superintendent in Baltimore County, SUPES officials began asking for work and, in turn, giving him jobs training educators. Prosecutors said in the statement of facts last month that Dance went along with most of their requests.

After his relationship with SUPES became public in December 2013, he quit his job with the company under pressure from the school board. SUPES had paid Dance $90,000. He continued to ask company officials for more money for work he said he had finished.

In 2013, Dance denied that he had been paid for the work, but if he was he would donate the money to the Baltimore County Education Foundation. Instead, payments had been made to him, court records show.

Maryland State Prosecutor Emmet C. Davitt said Dance created a fake document to give to ethics officials saying the payments would go to the county, and then asked SUPES officials not to provide accurate documents at the request of the ethics panel.

Dance told SUPES executives not to worry because the ethics panel had no subpoena power, prosecutors said. He also said that if the company turned over any documents he “might as well kill himself,” prosecutors said.

Dance’s attorneys deny that there was a “quid pro quo” between Dance and SUPES. They say he worked for the $90,000. Davitt told The Baltimore Sun this week that a contract between the company and Dance indicates that he did work. Davitt said he had no indication that Dance didn’t do the work he was paid for.

“What work he did and how much he was paid, we don’t know,” Davitt said.

Dance’s attorneys say their client was “admittedly unsophisticated in the intricacies of business structures” and didn’t understand the potential conflicts of interest.

liz.bowie@baltsun.com

twitter.com/lizbowie

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