By Juan Montoya from El Rrun Rrun
Brownsville Independent School District board vice president Dr. Sylvia Atkinson was arrested today by FBI agents after being named in a sealed federal indictment charging her with one count of conspiracy, one count of bribery concerning programs receiving federal funds, and six counts of travel act-state law bribery, including one count concerning programs receiving federal funds.
She is also Texas Southmost College’s Executive Director of High School Programs & Community Outreach. FBI agents arrested her on the TSC campus at about 3:30 p.m. Tuesday.
The 10-page indictment contains investigation on alleged criminal acts spanning from 2014 when she was an administrator at the Rio Hondo School District to her current tenure as a BISD trustee.
The indictment was issued December 10.
The conspiracy count alleges she conspired “with others” to “solicit, demand for the benefit of any person, and accept and agree to accept, anything of value from an undercover, cooperating individual,” and “others” intending to be influenced and rewarded in connection with any business, transaction, and series of transactions…involving anything of value of $5,000 or more.
The conspiracy count alleges that she used her positions as a BISD and RHISD official “to obtain money from private companies and private individuals in exchange for assistance in obtaining contracts with BISD or RHISD.”
The indictment charges that in exchange in using her influence in contracting decisions at BISD and RHISD. she demanded and received what were often alleged to be campaign contributions, but which in reality were bribes which she did not report as campaign contributions.
Further, she is alleged to cause funds to be distributed to finance the election campaigns of other local political candidates who, through their resulting loyalty, would enhance her power in local politics and enhance her ability to extract bribes in exchange for contracts.
She is alleged to obtain bribes related to potential school-district purchases of computer tablets, medical teleconferencing services, tutorial services, and other goods and services. She is also accused of obtaining bribes related to the potential use of BISD property for a purported movie production project.
When the undercover FBI Task Force Officer asked her what it would cost them for her ervices, she is quoted as saying: “I can tell you it’s probably gonna be, I would say, I would say, probably about ten,” and then explained, “I think that’s pretty low….cause we’re looking at the long picture…of us having a good relationship.”
She is alleged to have been paid $4,000 up front and another $6,000 from the undercover agent through the cooperating individual after the film proposal was placed on the BISD agenda approved by the board. Atkinson is alleged to have cast a vote on the item on the agenda February 12. A week later – on February 19 – she is alleged to have received the $6,000 payment.
Before the meeting in February, the indictment stated, that Atkinson also coached the individual on talking points for the meeting, telling him to say the movie was a “short” or a documentary, and to make the point that he would like to help promote the local area. She also stated to him to “keep it as vague as possible.”
After the item was placed on the agenda at her behalf and passed unanimously, she is quoted as telling the undercover agent who asked her if there was a possibility of working together in the future that: “I can assure you that what you need to get done, in this area, will get done.”
Counts 3-8 charges the use of facility in interstate commerce (a telephone) to “facilitate the promotion, management, establishment, and carrying on an unlawful activity, that being bribery of a public official in violation of the laws of Texas and thereafter performed and attempted to perform acts in furtherance of the unlawful activity.”
She was ordered held in federal custody without bond.