BISD embezzlers may get hefty prison sentences
Two former Beaumont Independent School District employees pleaded guilty in federal court April 14 to allegations of embezzling or conspiring to embezzle more than $4 million dollars from the local school district. Recently ousted Beaumont Independent School District’s finance director Devin McCraney and comptroller Sharika Allison admitted before federal Judge Ron Clark that they carried out schemes to embezzle the funds from the district’s coffers during roughly a three-year period.
McCraney pleaded guilty to one count of stealing or embezzling at least $5,000 from an entity that receives federal funds in that he caused more than $4 million dollars to be defrauded from the Beaumont Independent School District. The maximum penalty for his crime is up to 10 years imprisonment, a fine not to exceed $250,000 or two times the pecuniary gain, three years probation, forfeiture of three vehicles and 15 bank accounts, restitution up to $4 million, and a $100 court fine.
Allison also pleaded guilty to charges stemming from her role in embezzling the school district’s millions. Allison pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to defraud a public entity that receives federal funds. Allison faces up to five years in prison, a $250,000 fine or two times the pecuniary gain, three years probation, forfeiture of certain assets, restitution of more than $1 million, and an additional $100 court fine.
Judge Clark said he would set aside sentencing until after a pre-sentencing investigation report is completed on both defendants. According to the U.S. Attorney’s Office prosecuting the case, both Allison and McCraney will have their sentences subject to enhancements for the amount of money stolen, but consideration will be given since both parties “acknowledge acceptance of responsibility.”
Still, according to Clark, no sentence is set in stone, although the guilty pleas would be “next to impossible” to take back for any reason.
“No one can tell you today exactly what you’re sentencing is going to be,” Clark told the admitted felons. “If anyone made you any promises, they’re lying. And you won’t be able to withdraw your plea if you don’t like sentencing.”
“The guilty pleas are an important milestone, not just for the government and the defendants, but for citizens of Beaumont,” U.S. Attorney Malcolm Bales said. “Lately, much of the news coming from BISD has been disappointing, but its mission to educate Beaumont’s children remains critically important. The joint task force will continue to diligently work to ensure that individuals who are ripping off BISD and impugning both the mission and the many good public servants who are committed to that mission are held accountable.”
Tom Roebuck, a defense attorney who handles federal cases but does not represent either defendant, said the sentencing of McCraney and Allison face will be dependent upon “a number of things.”
“It depends on what the plea agreement says and if it’s sealed or not, and a lot of times they’re sealed,” Roebuck said. “I can tell you this: Rolling over on somebody, I can promise you that (would get him a lesser sentence).”
Still, there are some generalities that can be made considering to the nature of the crime admitted to by the defendants.
“Fraud, generally speaking, has a base level of six — well, that’s not very much time,” he said. “That’s only like 0 to six months. But when you get up to $4 million, add 18 levels to that, which puts you at 24. Well, now you’re up to 51 to 63 months. Then, if you’ve got, for example, 50 or more victims — which could very well be — you add four levels. If you’ve got 250 or more victims, you add six levels, and it could very easily be that.
“It’s a range. Basically, that means the judge can sentence someone to anything in that range and it’s not reversible. Then you’ve got stealing from the government. There’s just a whole number of things that can add to it.”
Although he did not have the case specifics, Roebuck believes stealing $4 million will get someone prison time.
“If this guy gets tagged with $4 million bucks, I don’t care how much he helps, he’s going to do some time,” he said. “The interesting thing to me is this other person that’s charged with conspiracy.”
What's more, Roebuck said McCraney and Allison could get some time taken off their sentences by cooperating with any investigation into ongoing BISD corruption.
“That fixed number (in the sentencing guidelines named by Judge Clark) is a surprise to me because that’s not generally how it works. I can pretty well tell you, if (McCraney is) already rushing in and pleading now, he’s already been debriefed by the government. The government probably has said we’re going to recommend a downward departure (less time).
Whatever time is taken off may not make much difference, Roebuck said.
“It doesn’t really matter — whoever did this, none of those judges are going to be happy with this program at all. They’re going to say it’s a breach of public trust, and that adds points too. If I’m the prosecutor, I could pile this sucker on.”
Roebuck said, “The name of the game here is the first guy in gets the best deal. This is what’s going to happen: There are a whole lot of dominoes that are going to fall and this guy probably knows where the ghosts are.
“He was out there naked anyway. How stupid can you be doubling the size of your house, buying all these cars and then rushing down to the bank and trying to suck out $50,000 to go hire a lawyer?”
Roebuck said, due to the amount of money stolen, he doesn’t see the prosecutors “doing much for them.”
“If they get any kind of consideration, I can’t imagine it will be much,” he said. “This is Judge Clark. If I had to guess, (McCraney) will get about eight (years). You gotta do 85 percent of your time. And of course, he’s got to forfeit everything he’s got.”
Some investigators are not sure McCraney and his cohort “only” stole $4 million, but neither defendant has confessed to any further fraudulent activities.
At the pleading, McCraney told The Examiner, “What you see is what it is.”
“These defendants knowingly and willfully abused their position of trust to steal education funds that were supposed to be used to provide services for the most innocent of victims – school children. That is unacceptable,” said Neil Sanchez, Special Agent in Charge of the U.S. Department of Education Office of Inspector General’s South Central Regional Office. “I’m proud of the work of OIG Special Agents and our law enforcement colleagues for holding these individuals accountable for their criminal actions.”
Clay Thorp contributed to this article.