The Ballinger Independent School District investigation has finally concluded with 7 charges handed down against former employee, Business office manager, Janna Halfmann. One other person is allegedly involved but we have not received the indictment at this time.
Halfmann was indicted on 7 charges, including one 2nd degree felony, for which the punishment is 2 to 20 years in prison. The state penal code says, “An individual adjudged to be guilty of a felony of the second degree shall be punished by imprisonment in the Texas Department of Criminal Justice for any term of not more than 20 years or less than 2 years.” The other 6 charges are State Jail Felonies, which are punishable by not more than 2 years in a state jail. In all, Halfmann faces a total of 32 years in prison. It’s highly unlikely she will receive any punishment close to that since her alleged crimes didn’t involved violence or crimes against persons.
The indictments are as follows:
No. 6872, 2nd degree felony (2-20 years in prison), for theft of between $30,000 and $150,000. The bond was set at $25,000.
No. 6873, State Jail Felony, for using a BISD Mastercard ending in 0017 for personal purchases. Bond $7,500.
No. 6874, State Jail Felony, use of BISD Mastercard ending in 0102 for personal purchases. Bond $7,500.
No. 6875, State Jail Felony, use of BISD Lowe’s credit card ending in 77606 for personal purchases. Bond $7,500.
No. 6876, State Jail Felony, use of BISD Walmart credit card ending in 9737 01, for personal purchases. Bond $7,500.
No. 6877, State Jail Felony, use of Walmart credit card ending in 9737 03, for personal purchases. Bond $7,500.
No. 6878, State Jail Felony, use of BISD Walmart credit card ending in 9737 04, for personal purchases. Bond $7,500.
All of the purchases are alleged to have occurred between 1 August 2013 and 6 September 2018.
District Attorney for the 119th district, John Best, was asked via email about the indictments, “As you know, since these cases are pending, I can’t provide much information. The Runnels County Grand Jury handed down a total of 7 indictments —one for Theft and six for credit card abuse.”
The theft indictment alleges:
The grand Jurors for the County of Runnels, State of Texas, duly selected, impaneled, sworn, charged and organized as such at the January Term 2019, of the 119th District Court of said County, upon their oaths present in and to the said Court, that JANNA BETH HALFMANN, Defendant, on or about and between the 1st day of August, 2015, and continuing through on or about the 30th day of September, 2018, and before the presentment of this indictment, in said County and State, did then and there, pursuant to one scheme and continuing course of conduct, unlawfully appropriate, by acquiring or otherwise exercising control over, property, namely, United States Currency, of the value of $30,000 or more but less than $150,000, from Ballinger Independent School District, the owner thereof, without the effective consent of the owner, and with intent to deprive the owner of the property, and at the time of the offense, the defendant was then and there a public servant, namely, a public school employee, and such property appropriated by the defendant had theretofore come into her custody, possession, or control by virtue of her status as a public servant.
The total amount of the bonds were $70,000 but the bond was reduced and Halfmann bonded out for a total $17,500 after being taken into custody on June 5th.
BISD superintendent Jeff Butts commented on the investigation, "Last year we noticed some irregularities and suspended both employees on September 11th. By September 27th we believed that we had enough to terminate both of the."
BISD acted quickly and decisively once they saw something amiss, "We acted as soon as we saw that something was wrong. We always have to make sure that we have our facts straight. On September 11th we were sure something was wrong and by September 27th we were positive."
Butts says that the district hasn't simply rested while the Rangers were investigating the case. They've been proactive to ensure something like the alleged theft doesn't happen again, "Now there is more oversight, more layers verifying every purchase and every penny of payroll. Everything is documented and an explanation must be given as to why something is purchased. It's not necessarily that the procedures beforehand were wrong, it's just that we had a person we trusted in that position. We're still looking to see how far back this situation may go. Something of this magnitude takes time to track down."
Butts said that the school district paid to have a forensic auditor come in, "We wanted an outside person with fresh eyes to take a look at things. We wanted a thorough investigation. As for the Rangers, Shea (Ranger) looked into it and came up with his facts. We let the audit and the investigation run their course because I never want to accuse anybody of anything that they didn't do. I personally and professionally have learned a lot through this process. We have an obligation to serve the community, to be stewards of their money. We take this very seriously and are looking for better ways and more transparent ways of doing things. The auditor has made several suggestions. This school district has been one of the most financially secure districts that I've ever been part of. The district and past superintendents have always been very frugal."
It is apparent that Butts, the district and the school board are using this to improve the way business is done in BISD. They haven't sat in denial or sat on their hands and waited to see what happens. They started taking a collective, proactive approach from the moment that they knew something was wrong and worked to improve the district's transparency and business practices.
It's always difficult for any organization when a trusted person has been in a position for many years and allegedly betrays that trust, particularly when it comes financial responsibilities. School district employees are public servants, just as the indictments against Halfmann state. When they stop serving the public and serving themselves, it's a black mark on their organization as a whole. In this case, the Butts, the school district and school board are trying to wipe away that black mark with their approach to ensuring this doesn't happen again.
It's difficult enough for school districts and teachers to operate in this day and age and being hamstrung with a betrayal means that you have to regain the trust of the public. As Butts said, "Our job is to educate the students and to be fiscally responsible for the money we receive to give the students that education." He has handled this about as well as anyone could have and he's worked closely with his staff and the school board to regain the public trust by making positive changes and increasing transparency.
It was reported that this morning, June 7th, Molly Whitten was arrested and booked into jail for theft, $2,500 - $30,000, which is a state jail felony. Her bond is reportedly $25,000 and she was in the process of making bail at the time of the update from the jail. The punishment for a state jail felony is up 180 days to 2 years in state jail. We do not have a copy of the indictment at this time but are working on obtaining one. It will be uploaded to the website and Facebook page once it is received.
As always, an indictment isn’t a conviction and Halfmann’s and Whitten's alleged guilt will have to be proven in a court of law.
Thank you to Jeff Smith of KRUN radio for obtaining copies of the indictments and sharing them with the newspaper.