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Latino Activist, Wife Go on Trial

Leonard Stamm defends Montgomery County case in Rockville CourtCouple Charged With Stealing Thousands Meant for Immigrants' Class

By Brian Mooar
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, June 18, 1996 ; Page D04

The leader of one of Montgomery County's largest Latino organizations went on trial with his wife yesterday on charges that they stole thousands of dollars from a nonprofit agency that hired them to teach auto mechanics to immigrants.

Galo Arturo Correa Sr. and his wife, Maria Cristina Correa, are accused of taking money from a $33,000 grant from the Private Industry Council, a nonprofit county agency that arranges and helps fund employment and job-training programs.

Defense lawyers told the Circuit Court jury that the couple had fulfilled their contractual obligations for the course. They said the Correas were being targeted for prosecution because of a power struggle between Galo Correa and his two brothers, Wilson and Luiz, who were once his business partners in the family's Rockville auto repair business.

Each defendant faces a count of felony theft and a count of conspiracy to commit theft, charges that carry a maximum prison term of 15 years and a $1,000 fine.

Deputy State's Attorney I. Matthew Campbell told jurors that the Correas took nearly $6,000 intended for instructors teaching a 17-week auto mechanic course in 1994 and that they misled the Private Industry Council about the structure and effectiveness of the classes. Campbell said the Correas claimed that two of their 15 students were placed in jobs, when in fact both had been working at the same jobs before taking the course.

Campbell said the couple filed questionable requests for reimbursement, including expenses for their family auto repair shop that were unrelated to the course.

"This is a theft that is the result of careful planning and considerationgiven to it before it occurred," Campbell said in his opening statement.

Attorneys for Galo Correa, chief executive and co-founder of Hispanics United for Rockville, and his wife said that the two worked hard to make the night course a success and that, if anything, the case should have been heard as a contract dispute in civil court.

Cristina Correa's attorney, Leonard R. Stamm, described the case as the fallout of "a very, very bitter family feud. Bitter enough that one brother would go to the state's attorney and make up allegations about [Correa] and involve this jury in deciding which brother is telling the truth."

The attorneys vigorously disputed statements by Wilson Correa, who told investigators that he never taught a single class even though two checks for more than $3,500 were issued in his name. Wilson Correa said that he once spoke to the students briefly but that he was in South America on a two-month business trip while the classes were being taught.

Wilson Correa told investigators that Galo Correa had him endorse a $2,600 check, which Galo cashed without ever giving any of the money to Wilson.

The lawyers conceded that the money ended up in Galo Correa's personal bank account, but they said the cash was paid out to a substitute teacher.

Galo Correa's attorney, Robert L. Koven, said the Private Industry Council's goal of getting 80 percent of the students in the course jobs in the auto mechanics field at $6.50 an hour was unrealistic. Nevertheless, he said that the Correas did not take any money to which they were not entitled and that Galo Correa invested more than 400 hours of his own time in the course without taking any compensation for himself.

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