Saga of former C-P superintendent comes to an end
Neal agrees to guilty plea, jail time; conviction will be wiped from record if he completes probation
By FAITH HUFFMAN, News-Telegram News Editor
March 28, 2008 - Bryan Christopher Neal, the former Como-Pickton superintendent accused of using school district money to purchase equipment for himself from a farm dealership, was sentenced today in state district court after pleading guilty to forgery and giving a false statement.
The plea was part of a deal worked out between the district attorney's office and Neal's attorneys, Larry Blount of Sulphur Springs and David Griffith of Gilmer.
In exchange for the guilty plea, Neal was sentenced to five years' probation with deferred adjudication. Under deferred adjudication, if Neal meets all of the terms of probation, the conviction will be removed from his criminal record.
In addition to the probation, Neal was ordered to pay to the school district restitution not to exceed the $20,701 he is believed to have taken from the district.
The amount could ultimately be lower. Eighth Judicial District Judge Robert Newsom noted that Neal's attorneys will have the opportunity to speak with District Attorney Martin Braddy regarding the forgery-thefts and explain some of the charges. Braddy can then, at his discretion, determine whether the explanation is sufficient to legitimately account for the funds and reduce the amount of restitution Neal owes.
Also as part of the sentence, Neal will begin serving 60 "straight days" in the county jail on June 10. During that two-month period, Neal will have to serve all 60 days consecutively, Braddy explained, and will not be eligible to participate in a work release program or early release due to good behavior or conduct.
That condition was sought due to the official position Neal was entrusted to serve as superintendent, and because the victim was a school district, the district attorney said following the sentencing hearing.
Neal voluntarily waived his right to a jury trial and pleaded guilty, and said he was satisfied with the representation from his attorneys, and thus didn't intend to seek an appeal of the decision.
Another condition of the deal was that Neal surrender his administrative certification through Texas Education Agency, which will prevent him from serving as a superintendent, principal or other administrative official at a Texas public school, according to Braddy.
The agreement did not address whether or not Neal will be allowed to continue to teach in Texas; that will be determined by Texas Education Agency. However, Braddy said that during conversations with TEA, the state school officials indicated that they likely will "go after all of his licenses."
Thirty-five forgery indictments issued for Neal were also dropped as part of the plea agreement, with the dollar amounts from those indictments consolidated into one total sum. He was also not required to be arraigned on those charges, as was originally scheduled for Friday morning.
The $20,701 restitution amount was the combined total of checks and gift certificates Neal wrote, signed and issued to himself, as well as checks he forged to himself using another administrators' name during his time as superintendent at the school, according to the district attorney.
Initially, officials thought the sum Neal had appropriate may have been in the hundreds of thousands of dollars, But the investigation soon revealed that, while some purchases were questionable and funds may have been mismanaged or spent in ways other than originally allocated, they were not "stolen."
The $20,701 was the amount the district and investigators found that could not be justly accounted for, the district attorney said.
Braddy commended Como-Pickton school board for taking action when they learned Neal had purchased a tractor and other equipment in the school's name but was buying it for personal not school use. The district attorney said the board of trustees fully cooperated with law enforcement agencies and did everything that was asked of them "to bring Mr. Neal the justice."
"A lesser school board would have tried to send him quietly out of town with a recommendation," Braddy said. "This school board didn't do that.
"This is a community full of wonderful working people, school teachers and administrators, and outstanding students," he added. "They suffered greatly by the entirety of his conduct. The school and community still have a lot of healing to do from his actions. I hope that, if anything, the community and school with will heal and be stronger for it," Braddy said.
Neal and his attorneys left the courthouse after the sentencing and were not available for comment.