DA explains indictments against former C-P superintendent Bryan Neal

By FAITH HUFFMAN, News-Telegram News Editor

March 18, 2008 - Despite the large number of indictments, 35, former Como-Pickton superintendent Bryan Neal is only accused of stealing between $20,000 and $25,000 from the school, District Attorney Martin Braddy told C-P school board during a special meeting Monday night.

Braddy said that the amount was taken in smaller increments over the course of Neal's six years with the district, and like many forgery-theft cases.

Neal was indicted last month by a Hopkins County grand jury. The indictments alleged Neal on 35 occasions forged now C-P Assistant Superintendent Lydia Walden's name on documents, without her authorization, while he was superintendent of Como-Pickton Consolidated Independent School District.

Braddy said that the amount is a total of check forgeries, false intent, checks to himself or his benefit, gift certificates, etc..., that officials, working closely with school staff and board members have been able to find evidence they believe proves illegal activity on the part of Neal.

"There are a lot of odd charges, but we've got to be able to prove they're illegal," Braddy said. "There's a difference between being a bad superintendent, mismanagement of funds and spending money not as he should spend it and committing the offense of theft by forgery. If he just blew money in ways he maybe was not supposed to, that's being stupid. I'm only interested in the money he took."

The district attorney said that while there were many decisions Neal made that school officials, staff and the community may question and have been hurt by, as a prosecutor, he is only allowed to charge Neal with criminal offenses which can be proven.

The former superintendent has yet to be arraigned or arrested on the new charges, only the original charges in 2007; he has been indicted on two charges for giving a false statement to obtain property or credit. He is alleged to have signed an agreement to buy at tractor and four-wheeler using the school's name. He was making payments for the equipment, having the payments taken out of his check regularly, but was purchasing it for his personal use, not the school's, according to the district attorney and school officials.

Neal is slated to be arraigned next week before the district judge on the cases. He will then be required to be booked into jail, and post bond on the 35 indictments.

The district attorney explained that while law restricts him from discussing those terms in open forum, he could tell them the punishment options available for state jail felony convictions. Legally, a person cannot be prosecuted for "being a bad person," making what most consider bad decisions or even lying, only evidence of wrong doing, Braddy said. Also, the legal system does not get to make any decisions regarding Neal's certifications, licensing or impact on his future career in education; Texas Education Agency makes those decisions. However, based on his conversations with the TEA investigator, Braddy said, "I believe if he is convicted, even given probation, it is probable it will result in his licenses-- he had three, his basic teaching and two administrative -- being taken away forever."

Braddy said that based on the amount of funding that officials have evidence he took, the charges will likely be combined for one amount. As it stands, the range of punishment will be that of a state jail felony offense. Braddy has been working with Neal's attorneys and likely will offer him a plea deal, should he choose to accept it.

While Neal has the right to refuse the deal and ask for a jury trial, Braddy said he had an "incentive to get this done next week," when Neal is slated to appear in court for arraignment.

If Neal refuses the deal, then the case will continue to be on the docket and move according to the usual court schedule, with cases for more severe offenses such as violent crimes and first-degree felonies taken precedent, along with cases for individuals currently in jail. Cases then are generally put on the docket in by degree of offense. Since the allegation against Neal are all state jail felony offenses, the trial could be pushed back a while depending on when cases for higher degrees of offenses are ready.

Braddy explained that if Neal is convicted either by deal or trial, the law stipulates that a person who has no prior felony convictions upon being convicted of a felony is probation eligible. Even if Neal is sentenced to serve time -- 6 months to 2 years-- in a state jail as allowable by law, the sentence could be probated over a period of years.

He said one option of punishment is deferred adjudication, which allows a person to be "guilty," to receive a sentence which is served on probation. If the terms of the probation are met and fully served out, the charge goes off their record. That is to say that they serve out their probation and don't get a felony conviction on their record. As part of deferred adjudication, they can be made to pay court costs and fees, as well as restitution, and can be made to serve up to a certain number of days in a state jail.

If convicted of the offenses, and not offered deferred adjudication, Neal could be sentenced to the maximum 2 years, however, would likely be on probation. He also could be assessed a fine and the felony would be on his permanent record. If he failed to meet the terms of probation, he could have it revoked in a hearing and be made to serve the assessed time in a state jail. The district attorney also noted that if convicted assessed time in a state jail, that particular crime requires the person to serve day-for-day the time assessed.

Braddy said that he would notify the school board the terms of any deal he might offer Neal, listen to their opinion regarding the matter, but proceed with what he believes "to be right and fair" for this case. He will take into account the fact that the charges are for a superintendent, someone entrusted by the public, but will also make an offer based on the legal parameters and evidence in the case.

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