BISD's McCraney, Allison indicted in federal court

BISD's McCraney, Allison indicted in federal court
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The caption at the top of page one of the 12-page federal indictment is intimidating – as it is intended to be. McCraney and Allison are jointly charged with one count of conspiracy and 19 counts that they did “steal, embezzle and obtain by fraud property worth at least $5,000” from the Beaumont Independent School District, described as “a local government or organization receiving federal benefits in excess of $10,000” a year. Hence their alleged crimes as charged in this indictment are not just stealing money,  but absconding with federal funds.

What U.S. Attorney Malcolm Bales described as an “audacious scheme” to steal was actually fairly simple. Finance Director McCraney and Comptroller Allison were the BISD foxes charged with guarding the henhouse, and the indictments describe an insatiable greed for cash, a total of $4,041,705.27 stolen by means of 18 separate wire transfers to bank accounts under their personal control. The transactions took place between Aug. 23, 2010, and Oct. 24, 2013, 11 days before an FBI raid on BISD headquarters and the homes of McCraney and Allison brought the alleged scheme to an apparent halt.

The feds want that money back. More than $1 million has already been recovered, and prosecutors are in hot pursuit of the rest, though they admit they are unlikely to find all of it. Should these charges result in convictions against the accused, they will be required to make full restitution in addition to the $250,000 in fines each faces.

Count One of the indictment focuses on conspiracy and makes an interesting read. It specifically states “the defendants did knowingly, willfully and unlawfully conspire with others known and unknown to the grand jury” and in the next paragraph reiterates “the defendants and co-conspirators performed … overt acts” in furtherance of their crimes. This indicates the government is sure McCraney and Allison did not act alone, and prosecutors Christopher T. Tortorice and Joseph R. Batte, both Assistant U.S. Attorneys in the Beaumont office, will follow this case wherever it leads.

At a late afternoon press conference to announce the indictments, U.S. Attorney Bales waxed eloquent on the seriousness of the crimes.

“FDR famously said, ‘The school is the last expenditure upon which America should be willing to economize,’” Bales said. “And the truth is that the citizens of Beaumont have heeded that wise advice and have spent lavishly on their public schools for the sake of the city’s children. But as this indictment illustrates, there are individuals at BISD who have corruptly embezzled from that generous provision by stealing over $4 million dollars that was intended to underwrite excellent schools in Beaumont. The grand jury has alleged that Devin McCraney and Sharika Allison have been caught red-handed, and if convicted, they will face justice. In the same way, federal agents and prosecutors will remain vigilant to detect, investigate and hold accountable other so-called public servants who are abusing the public trust.”

After he concluded his prepared remarks, Bales engaged in a spirited discussion with the assembled reporters. One asked, “What caught your attention to get your office interested in this case?”

“There was some excellent reporting in the Beaumont Examiner about Mr. McCraney,” Bales said. “There were some other things I’m not at liberty to discuss but our agents are smart people … but I’d be lying if I said we did not read the article about the home improvements. We did.”

The story Bales makes reference to appeared on the cover of the July 11, 2013, issue of The Examiner under the title “BISD Money Man on a Spending Spree.” Jennifer Johnson’s hard-hitting investigative piece detailed how McCraney had renovated his home to the tune of hundreds of thousands of dollars without building permits or a mortgage to pay for it while at the same time purchasing several vehicles without having to take liens to finance them. Johnson questioned these expenditures, considering McCraney’s BISD salary.

Then Bales addressed a topic that has obviously bothered him since his ill-fated prosecution of electrician Calvin Walker.

“One of the things we have experienced here was quite surprising to me,” began Bales. “I lived in Beaumont for six years in the late ’80s and early ’90s; I love Beaumont; two of my children were born here. But I was not prepared for the polarization. The last time we made a charge of something I thought was fraudulent at BISD – and I still do – was the sensitivities in this community that are racially charged. I’m not used to being accused of being on anybody’s side. The only side we’re on is law and order — and justice.”

With that, Bales urged anyone with any information related to this case to call the Federal Bureau of Investigation at (409) 832-8571.

“The FBI recognizes that fighting public corruption is vital to preserving our democracy,” said Special Agent in Charge Stephen L. Morris. “Our public officials have and always will be held to a higher standard to maintain their positions of trust. These indictments today signify a violation of the public trust given to Devin McCraney and Sharika Allison.”

The defendants each face up to 10 years in federal prison.

A grand jury indictment is not evidence of guilt and all defendants are presumed innocent until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt in a court of law.