Jury selection in Atkinson case set for April

Indicted Brownsville Independent School District Board of Trustee Vice President Sylvia Atkinson appeared in federal court Friday in Brownsville for a motion hearing.

Attorneys for both Atkinson and the government appeared to be poised to take the bribery case to trial.

An eight-count indictment handed down by a federal grand jury in December charged the BISD trustee and former executive director of High School Programs and Community Outreach at Texas Southmost College with one count of conspiracy, one count of bribery concerning programs receiving federal funds, and six counts of travel act-state law bribery.

Atkinson has pleaded not guilty to the charges

Atkinson’s attorneys Noe Garza and Dale Robertson appeared before U.S. District Judge Fernando Rodriguez, Jr. on Friday morning to discuss a previously entered motion to suppress and a motion for a protective order, which had been entered under seal.

Attorneys told Rodriguez that they had reached an agreement on the motion to suppress, though Atkinson’s counsel asked the judge for the ability to re-urge the grounds of the motion as to evidence at issue during trial. Rodriguez opted to deny the motion as moot without prejudice.

The motion for a protective order was not discussed on the record. Rather, all four attorneys approached the bench to discuss the document, which counsel indicated involved sensitive subject matter.

Back on the record, a government prosecutor indicated that the amount of information collected through discovery was “much larger than what is traditionally used during trial” and that the government had put together a binder to share with defense counsel.

A December 2018 incident referred to by government attorneys in the indictment as “The Movie Project” involved Atkinson allegedly soliciting and accepting a $10,000 bribe from an undercover FBI agent posing as an employee of Pink Ape Media, an advertising and film production company based in Brownsville.

Atkinson faces up to 45 years in prison. Jury selection begins April 6.