Former Socorro ISD superintendent sentenced to 80 months in prison

El Paso News

BROWNSVILLE, Texas (KVEO) — Former Socorro Independent School District Superintendent Sylvia P. Atkinson was sentenced to federal prison. Atkinson served as SISD superintendent from 2007 to 2008.

After a roughly hour-long sentencing hearing, Atkinson was sentenced to 80 months in prison and faces $35,000 in fines on Wednesday.

During the sentencing proceedings Atkinson’s attorney, Josh Schaffer, asked that the court takes into consideration Atkinson’s mental illness that led to her conduct.

The mental illness was not disclosed to maintain her privacy, but Schaffer did mention that it was the “gasoline on the fire” that contributed to her gambling addiction.

That gambling addiction is what he said caused her to seek out more money.

Schaffer also detailed Atkinson’s dedication to her family and community through her work and argued that the public shame and ruined reputation were enough punishment for someone who was not likely to repeat the offense.

The prosecuting attorney argued that it was not Atkinson’s gambling addiction that was on trial, but her abuse of public trust to obtain money illegally.

Atkinson delivered a remorseful apology to her community, family and colleagues for the actions that led to where she stood today.

“Next to the passing of my brother, this is the worst day of my life,” said Atkinson during the sentencing.

The judge also ruled that Atkinson should not hold public office again and that she should self-report back to the court on June 18, 2021, so she can be taken to a South Texas prison.

Outside of the court house, Schaffer spoke to the press with Atkinson standing next to him.

Atkinson outside the Reynaldo G. Garza & Filemon B. Vela Courthouse after her sentencing. [KVEO]

“Dr. Atkinson has no complaints about how the court treated her throughout this process. We are obviously disappointed with the ultimate outcome and wish the sentence had been less,” said Schaffer.

Schaffer said the fight is not over and that Atkinson plans to appeal the decision. Atkinson’s sentencing was originally scheduled for Feb. 9 but was rescheduled several times. The most recent rescheduling was due to her brother unexpectedly passing away.

In November, 2020 a federal jury found Atkinson guilty on eight counts of bribery.

Atkinson was arrested by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) in December 2019 after being indicted by a grand jury.

According to the indictment, Atkinson used her position as a Brownsville ISD employee to, “obtain money from private companies and private individuals in exchange for assistance in obtaining contracts with BISD or Rio Hondo ISD.”

In June 2008, Atkinson was fired from her position at Socorro Independent School District amid allegations she was abusing her power. She denied the allegations.

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