Former BISD comptroller wants out of prison

Sharika Allison

Claiming ineffective counsel and a lack of understanding as to what pleading guilty really meant, imprisoned former Beaumont Independent School District comptroller Sharika Allison is asking a federal court to set aside her sentence and remand the case for further examination.

Allison is currently serving a 46-month prison sentence for her part in a $4 million scheme with former BISD finance director Devin McCraney to defraud their employer through wire transfers to accounts held by the finance employees and self-endorsed payments from BISD to entities controlled by Allison that have names similar to legitimate business vendors of the school district.

Allison, who embezzled more than $1 million from BISD, was sentenced to four years in prison Sept. 18, 2014, for conspiracy to commit theft on programs receiving federal funds, although she faced more than a decade behind bars. Part of the rationale for leniency was the assertion that Allison was accepting responsibility for her crimes. Allison is now saying she wants a do-over in sentencing, claiming that she deserves less time than what she agreed to.

As part of the plea agreement Allison signed with the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of Texas, she is ineligible to appeal her sentence agreement unless one of two things occur.

“As part of a standard plea agreement, a defendant waives all rights to appeal with two exceptions,” said Jefferson County First Assistant Criminal District Attorney Cory Crenshaw, who served as a federal prosecutor for the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Texas for roughly four years before a gubernatorial appointment called him to serve Jefferson County as district attorney in 2014. “First, they may appeal if the judge sentences him/her to more than the statutory maximum. Second, they may appeal on the issue of ineffective assistance of counsel.”

In a hand-written submission to the federal court, Allison blames her attorney for not properly explaining her options, and for allowing an un-agreeable plea agreement to be entered into.

Allison’s formal complaints against her counsel are four-fold. Her initial complaint says attorney William John Jay Dedrick III “defied my request” to file a sentencing appeal sooner, adding that she was unaware of the appeal process “because it was never explained to me by my defense counsel.”

From her prison cell, Allison also complains of counsel’s failure to challenge the actual amount of loss BISD can attribute to the former comptroller once property seizures and confiscated funds were taken into account.

Additionally, Allison claims that ineffective counsel was to blame for her lack of understanding “available options and consequences of pleading guilty or going to trial,” saying her attorney failed to advise her of her rights.

Lastly, Allison claims “counsel’s deficient performance where the sentencing range was miscalculated” prejudiced her opinion of how to proceed.

Therefore, the convicted felon claims, the court should “remand for evidentiary hearing and resentencing” the case she settled with a guilty plea with sentencing recommendations.

Whether Allison’s claim of ineffective counsel will be heard at the court has not been determined. U.S. Attorney’s Office Public Information Officer Davilyn Walston said that claims such as Allison’s are not uncommon, but pending any judicial order, Allison will be held pursuant to her signed agreement.

“It is quite common for a defendant to appeal on the issue of ineffective assistance of counsel,” Crenshaw remarked, “but it is very rare that such claims have merit or see any success with a reviewing court.”

Barring a successful appeal, Allison will serve no less than 39 months in federal prison.

“A defendant must serve their entire sentence less any good time credit, which is a max of 15 percent of the sentence,” Crenshaw said in general terms. “Once discharged from prison, the defendant will then be on supervised release.”

Allison’s publicly entered sentence report also requires that, while on supervised release for a period of three years, she will have a long list of conditions to abide by, including reporting to a probation officer, being prohibited from employment with any entity that receives government funding, and performing community service.

The remainder of Allison’s plea agreement, excluding any language that could signal whether or not Allison cooperated with the prosecution, will be public once retyped pursuant to an April 13 ruling by U.S. Judge Ron Clark, who ordered the release of sealed plea agreements for Allison and co-defendant McCraney, along with other defendants who had defrauded the Beaumont Independent School District. Attorneys for five other defendants convicted of crimes against BISD were present for the court proceeding, but Allison did not have representation in the court as he “neither appeared nor contacted the court with a reason for his absence,” Clark noted.

Allison claims in her request for resentencing that she is no longer represented by counsel, but Clark stated in his ruling that Allison’s counsel has not been stricken from the case, though attempts to make contact with the attorney went unanswered.

While Allison is filing legal documents on her own behalf, co-defendant Devin McCraney is being served with legal documents. McCraney’s wife, Traci, asserted to the federal court in response to an April 14 garnishment proceeding that she has now filed for divorce on the grounds that, “The marriage has become insupportable because of discord or conflict or personalities between (Traci and Devin) that destroys the legitimate ends of the marriage relationship and prevents any reasonable expectation of reconciliation.”

Until the divorce is final, pursuant to court-ordered wage garnishment, Traci will be subject to have money deducted from her BISD payroll on her husband’s behalf. Traci, through attorney Jonathan Stovall, reports that the divorce is expected to be finalized by May 1.

Traci initially challenged the government’s garnishment claim to her wages, but now acknowledges that Devin in fact “has a community property interest that may be garnished to satisfy his criminal restitution obligations” – at least until the divorce is final, “unless Traci and Devin get married again in the future.”

Traci and Devin were married April 2, 2011, and remained in the same household until he reported to prison at the end of 2014. Since Devin reported to prison, the Yukon Denali that sported the license plate “SPOYLD” and the Ford F-150 personalized for Devin were sold at auction, the proceeds of those sales deposited into an account at the U.S. Attorney’s Office on April 2 (the couple’s four year anniversary) to satisfy a small portion of Devin’s court-ordered restitution.

“I would hope that those responsible for stealing millions from our school district would spend their future days in shame and trying to repay the children they robbed,” Crenshaw said of Allison’s recent filing, and those who would follow in her footsteps. “Unfortunately, they likely will spend their days blaming others for their misdeeds.”