Vice President of Brownsville ISD School Board arrested for conspiracy, bribery by FBI

Local News

Sylvia Atkinson is charged with one count of conspiracy, one county of bribery concerning programs receiving federal funds, and six counts of travel act-state law bribery. (Photo Source: Brownsville ISD Website)

February 07 2021 06:00 pm

**Editors note: It was previously reported that Atkinson was the Assistant Superintendent for Rio Hondo ISD. However, Atkinson is the former Assistant Superintendent for Rio Hondo ISD . Story has been updated throughout.**

Sylvia P. Atkinson, the Vice President of the Brownsville Independent School District Board, Assistant Superintendent for Rio Hondo ISD, and Executive Director of High School Programs and Community Outreach at Texas Southmost College, was arrested by the FBI on Tuesday after being indicted by a grand jury.

Atkinson is charged with one count of conspiracy, one count of bribery concerning programs receiving federal funds, and six counts of travel act-state law bribery.

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.”

The indictment states that in exchange for using her influence in contracting decisions with Rio Hondo ISD and Brownsville ISD, Atkinson would demand and receive money which was said to be “campaign contributions” but the indictment says they were actually bribes and the money was not reported as campaign contributions. The indictment added that Atkinson would either keep all or a portion of the money for herself.

The report stated, that Atkinson would also use some of the funds to finance the election campaigns of other local political candidates who would enhance Atkinson’s “power in local politics, extend her influence on the Brownsville ISD Board, and enhance her ability to extract bribes in exchange for contracts.” According to the indictment, she also “sought to obtain bribes for potential school district purchases of computer tablets, medical teleconferencing services, tutorial services and other goods and services.” The indictment added that Atkinson obtained bribes related to the potential use of Brownsville ISD property for a movie production project.

The indictment stated that “in or about” December 2018, while Atkinson was on the Brownsville Board of Trustees, she made an agreement with someone who was helping the FBI in their investigation to “assist a purported film production company use Brownsville ISD facilities to film scenes for a Hollywood movie in exchange fro bribes from the production company” to Atkinson. 

The indictment says later the same month, an undercover agent met with Atkinson for dinner to discuss cost. Documents say during that meeting,  Atkinson said, “I’ll get a couple of people to give me some quotes, because… you know it is not going to be… it is not going to be for free… and the whole reason I mentioned about having you be the front… it is because he can get you paid.” 

According to the documents, Atkinson had a meeting with the undercover agent and the person cooperating with the FBI to discuss the movie project and putting an item on the BISD Board of Trustees meeting agenda about the project. When asked how much it would cost Atkinson for her “services,” the document says she responded “I can tell you it’s probably gonna be, I would say, I would say, probably about ten. I think that’s pretty low… cause we’re looking at the long picture… of us having a good relationship.”

The indictment says after that meeting, the undercover agent made an “initial bribe payment of $4,000” to Atkinson in exchange for having the film project proposal placed on a future school board agenda and Atkinson agreed that the agent “would pay her the remaining $6,000” after the item was placed on the agenda. 

According to the documents, in January 2019 Atkinson e-mailed the person assisting the FBI “the language that should be sent to the BISD Interim Superintendent requesting the film project be placed on the BISD Board of Trustees agenda.” 

The indictment states that before the February BISD board meeting, Atkinson “coached the cooperating individual on talking points for the meeting,” telling him to say the movie was a “short” or a documentary, and to make the point that he would like to help promote the local area. She also stated to him to “keep it as vague as possible.”

At the meeting, Atkinson and the school board approved the motion in a unanimous vote, according to the indictment.

According to the indictment, Atkinson was paid the remaining $6,000 bribe which Atkinson “confirmed was the amount she was owed.” According to the documents she discussed the possibility of working with the undercover agent in the future. The indictment says the undercover “confirmed” he would pay bribes to get things done to which she responded, “I can assure you that what you need to get done, in this area, will get done.”

The indictment states a money judgment is being sought against Atkinson.

According to records, no bond was set for Atkinson. 

CBS 4 has reached out to Texas Southmost College who said that they do not comment on personnel matters and referred us back to the FBI. 

You can read the full affidavit below or click here. 

Copyright 2021 Nexstar Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.


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