A former South San Antonio Independent School District secretary accused of embezzling football game revenues was sentenced to eight years in prison Thursday, despite a last-minute attempt to spread blame to the district's controversial ex-athletic director.
Several school board trustees and Superintendent Rebecca Robinson lingered inside the courtroom after the hearing to watch as deputies led Silvia Gallegos Neira, 58, away in handcuffs.
“It's been a long two years,” board President Rose Marie Martinez said, referring to a 2011 audit of athletic funds that eventually resulted in the criminal charge. “The precedent has been set here. If anybody's thinking of doing this in any other district, they better think twice because justice has been served here.”
Neira was indicted last year on charges of stealing $22,420 from the district over a three-year period, taking advantage of her position as the person who collected and deposited athletic event revenues.
She pleaded no contest to theft in April in exchange for an eight-year term. Because she arrived at court Thursday with a check for $11,000 to repay the district, prosecutors agreed to not call witnesses or argue against her as she asked state District Judge Maria Teresa Herr to let her serve the sentence on probation.
Although Herr denied the request, she did retain jurisdiction of the case — a strong indicator that the judge might consider altering the sentence to shock probation after Neira spends about six months in prison.
Neira admitted to the judge that she stole and said she intends to pay back the entire $22,420. But she wasn't the only person to have participated in the scheme, she said. She would drop off cash for then-athletic director Gary Durbon, the son of then-Superintendent Ron Durbon, she alleged.
“I tried very hard to get away from that office four different times, but I couldn't because I was told by his father ... I was never to leave there,” Neira said. “In that school district, you can't turn to no one without being threatened ... and retaliated against.”
District officials in attendance declined to comment on the claims.
Durbon has not been charged. He repeatedly has denied wrongdoing.
“In Texas, we need to corroborate what would essentially be accomplice witness testimony,” said Adriana Biggs, chief of the district attorney's white-collar-crimes division. “Absent that, we don't have a case. If there's information presented to us that ties Mr. Durbon to the theft, then certainly we would re-open the investigation.”