EDINBURG — A district court judge is tasked with deciding whether to reduce the 30-year sentence he handed down to a construction company owner who stole nearly $1 million from nearly four dozen people.
State District Judge Israel Ramon Jr. sentenced Adelina Briseño to 30 years in prison in late December 2018 after she voluntarily pleaded guilty to property theft of more than $300,000. She found the sentence too harsh; and in January, her attorneys filed a motion for reconsideration or reduction of sentence, calling her punishment “excessive in light of the nature of the offense.”
According to prosecutors with the Hidalgo County District Attorney’s Office, Briseño, 41, stole nearly $1 million from 47 prospective homeowners as part of a homebuilding scam in which her company, Briseño Construction, promised to build low-priced homes in only a few months with a partial down payment. The DA’s office has a pending indictment against Briseño that includes additional victims, Assistant District Attorney Luis Gonzalez told the judge Thursday during a hearing on the motion.
Gonzalez argued the 30-year sentence was appropriate given the magnitude of the crime, telling the judge, “The impact is greater than just the money … a home is more than just a financial transaction. It is a safe place to raise your kids; it’s a place to live …”
Attorney O. Rene Flores, who Briseño hired to handle the reconsideration motion before Ramon, highlighted multiple cases in which an individual who pleaded guilty to a violent crime that resulted in the death of another, such as manslaughter or murder, received lighter sentences than Briseño.
The judge, however, countered that the instances Flores cited were “plea bargains” between the DA’s office and the defendant’s attorneys.
Flores also noted that the punishment range for first-degree theft in Texas of five to 99 years or life, is much higher than other states that make up the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit. In neighboring Louisiana, property theft of more than $25,000 is punishable by no more than 20 years in prison, and in New Mexico, embezzlement of more than $20,000 is punishable by up to nine years.
“I’m not here to change the law, but I am asking the court to consider the relevant facts and circumstances surrounding this particular case lend themselves to the idea that the sentence was disproportionate,” Flores said.
Ramon has until Feb. 26 to decide whether he will reconsider and reduce Briseño’s sentence.