WASHINGTON – A former deputy undersecretary for safe and drug free schools at the Education Department (search) pleaded guilty to charging the government for personal travel, including trips to Texas where he continued working as a visiting judge while employed in Washington.
Eric Andell pleaded guilty to one count of conflict of interest, the Justice Department (search) said Friday. He faces up to one year in prison and has agreed to reimburse the federal government $8,659.85. He will be sentenced July 29.
The charge stems from expenses on 14 trips from late 2002 to September 2003 that federal authorities say were motivated in part by his desire to accrue service time toward receipt of a pension from the state of Texas.
Andell, a former justice for the First Court of Appeals in Texas (search), made seven trips to Houston where he acted as a visiting state judge, according to documents filed in the case.
Andell came to Washington as a senior adviser to then-Education Secretary Rod Paige, who appointed him to run the Office of Safe and Drug-Free Schools (search).
For several of the trips, Andell received his federal government salary as sick leave "when in fact he was working and being paid as a visiting judge in the state of Texas," according to the court papers.
He also filed federal expenses when he traveled to Austin, Texas, on Aug. 13, 2003 in order "to seek appointment from the governor of Texas," according to the court documents, which provide no elaboration. The office of Republican Gov. Rick Perry said it could not confirm a meeting with Andell because the appointments office was already closed for the day.
All the trips involved at least some travel for personal purposes, the court documents stated. Andell went twice to New York where he took in Broadway shows, attended a Peter, Paul and Mary concert in Columbus, Ohio, attended football games in Houston and Detroit, and was present for a gala at the University of Houston.
Andell's job at the Education Department was overseeing all activities related to safe schools, crisis response, alcohol and drug prevention, health and well-being of students.
Andell was a judge for the 315th District Court of Texas (search), Juvenile Court, before becoming a justice for the appeals court. As senior adviser to Paige, Andell gave recommendations and guidance on juvenile justice, school safety and drug abuse reduction.
In his capacity as a juvenile court judge, he helped establish High Point High School, one of the earliest high schools committed to serving at-risk students who had been expelled from the public school system.
He also chaired the Texas Juvenile Probation Commission and was vice-chair of the Board of Mental Health and Mental Retardation of Harris County, Texas; chair of "At-Risk Students," a program sponsored by the Harris County Education Foundation; and a member of the Houston/Harris County Commission on Children.