BY ERIN SHERIDAN and GARY LONG
An indictment handed down by a federal grand jury charging school district trustee with accepting bribes detailed at least one incident in which she is accused of soliciting thousands of dollars from an undercover FBI agent posing as an employee of a Brownsville-based film production company.
The document, which was unsealed just prior to Sylvia Atkinson’s arrest outside of a scheduled Brownsville Independent School District meeting Tuesday night, charged Atkinson with eight counts including conspiracy to defraud the United States, bribery concerning a program receiving federal funds, and five counts of violation of the Travel Act – State Bribery law.
According to the document, Atkinson used her position as a school board official and an elected trustee to obtain money from private companies and private individuals in exchange for assistance in obtaining contracts with the district.
These included potential school district purchases of computer tablets, medical teleconferencing services, and tutorial services, according to the document.
Atkinson made her initial appearance in federal court in Brownsville on Wednesday morning. She was accompanied by two lawyers, Noe Garza and Dale Robertson
During her arraignment, U.S. Magistrate Judge Ronald G. Morgan laid out the conditions Atkinson must meet in order to be released on a $50,000 bond agreement.
The BISD Trustee was required to submit a $5,000 cash deposit with the court, maintain and seek employment, and surrender her passport. Additionally, Morgan ordered Atkinson to refrain from contact with any alleged co-conspirators or victims.
Atkinson’s ability to travel was restricted to the Southern District of Texas, and Morgan specified that she could not go to Mexico, adding, “You’ve got to understand something. You’re in trouble.”
The judge finished by informing Atkinson that she would face severe consequences if she does not appear back in court, for which motion hearings are scheduled throughout December.
Atkinson entered a plea of not guilty through her attorneys. Jury selection in the case is scheduled for Jan. 21, 2020. Court documents indicated that she posted bond after she was remanded to the custody of a U.S. Marshal.
Approached by reporters outside of the courthouse, Garza briefly stated that both attorneys were “ready to defend” Atkinson.
“She’s innocent of all charges. Up to this point, I have to save my comments; the rules don’t allow me to make any comment about this,” he said.