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Latino Activist, Wife Get Probation

Defense Attorney Leonard Stamm in Montgomery County Circuit Court defending felony theft, criminal charges, trialMd. Couple Must Repay $6,000 Skimmed From Immigrant Program

By Brian Mooar
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, August 30, 1996 ; Page B06

A Montgomery County judge sentenced a prominent Latino activist and his wife yesterday to probation and ordered them to repay $6,000 in government funds they skimmed from a program designed to teach automotive mechanics to immigrants.

Emerging from the courthouse after a judge decided against sending them to prison, Galo Arturo Correa Sr. shook his fist in triumph. With him were his wife, Cristina Correa, their attorneys and more than a dozen sign-waving supporters.

Describing the Correas as "good people who did a bad thing," Circuit Court Judge James L. Ryan gave each a 15-year suspended prison term and a $500 fine. He also ordered them to pay back the $6,000 in taxpayer money they diverted for their own use.

Ryan told the 52-year-old Latino leader, "You've helped the entire community, all races. Mr. Correa, you are clearly a leader. Someone described you as a guardian angel." However, the judge noted, "We as a society cannot condone what you did."

A jury in June found the couple guilty of felony theft for taking money intended for instructors teaching a 17-week auto mechanics course in 1994. Prosecutors said the Correas falsified time sheets to mislead the nonprofit Private Industry Council about the classes.

Defense attorneys Robert L. Koven and Leonard R. Stamm told Ryan that the criminal charges and trial had personally ruined the couple and that Galo Correa has been excoriated in the Latino press as a cheat, a fraud and a thief.

Cristina Correa, 44, wept yesterday as defense attorneys described their many accomplishments and contributions to the community. She later told the judge that she was proud of what her husband had achieved without a college education but that after the conviction, "all that work, all [those] efforts [are] in the ground."

The attorneys argued that any bookkeeping irregularities were the result of honest mistakes and ineptitude, not fraud, and that Cristina Correa had taken on a managerial and bookkeeping role for which she was ill-trained.

But Assistant State's Attorney Suzanne Schneider described the Correas' actions as a "betrayal of trust" and "a tragedy," saying the Correas schemed to take money from immigrants trying to get their feet on the first rung of the ladder to success.

"This is truly a crime," Schneider said. "This is not simply a misunderstanding of a contract."

As they were leaving the courthouse yesterday, attorneys for the Correas said they were pleased with the sentence but still planned to appeal the verdict.

Asked about his future, Galo Correa smiled broadly and said he planned to start rebuilding his name by running again for president of Hispanics United for Rockville, the group he founded to offer job training to Montgomery's Latino residents.

Articles appear as they were originally printed in The Washington Post and may not include subsequent corrections.