Former Ballinger ISD business office manager sentenced to prison in embezzlement case

Bill Hancock
Runnels County Register

BALLINGER - 119th District Judge Ben Woodward handed down a guilty verdict and prison sentence for former Ballinger Independent School District business office manager, Janna Halfmann. The former public servant was convicted of embezzling $213,987.79 from the school district through credit card abuse and fraudulent overtime.

Judge Ben Woodward handed down a guilty verdict and prison sentence for former Ballinger Independent School District office manager, Janna Halfmann, in her embezzlement case in which she stole $213,987.79 from the school district through credit card abuse and fraudulent overtime.

"This is all you. This is a particularly despicable crime," Woodward said as he handed down a sentence of 7 years in prison and $213,987.79 in restitution of on the 7 felony convictions:

Indictment No. 6872: 2nd degree felony (2-20 years in prison), for theft of between $30,000 and $150,000.

No. 6873, State Jail Felony, for using a BISD Mastercard ending in 0017 for personal purchases.

No. 6874, State Jail Felony, use of BISD Mastercard ending in 0102 for personal purchases.

No. 6875, State Jail Felony, use of BISD Lowe’s credit card ending in 77606 for personal purchases.

No. 6876, State Jail Felony, use of BISD Walmart credit card ending in 9737 01, for personal purchases.

No. 6877, State Jail Felony, use of Walmart credit card ending in 9737 03, for personal purchases.

No. 6878, State Jail Felony, use of BISD Walmart credit card ending in 9737 04, for personal purchases.

All of the purchases are alleged to have occurred between 1 August 2013 and 6 September 2018.

Halfmann was sentenced to 7 years in prison for the 2nd degree felony theft. The crime is a 3rd degree felony, but was enhanced to a 2nd degree felony since as business office manager of the school district Halfmann was a public servant. She could have received up to 20-years in prison for the theft. The thefts and overtime fraud took place over a 7-year period.

Each of the State Jail Felony punishments carried a maximum sentence of 2-years each, which is what Woodward handed down. In all, the convictions on all 7 charges carried a sentence of 19-years, but will all be served concurrently.

Woodward's comments during sentencing struck deep into this small community of 4,500 people, many of whom had been friends with the 54-year old Halfmann, including Ballinger superintendent Jeff Butts. While testifying, Butts said that he had known Halfmann since high school, when he attended Winters High School and she attended Wall High School back in the 80s.

Halfmann, as business office manager was in charge of all of the district's accounts, with little oversight, "What disturbs me more than anything else is how you disregarded the very processes in place to prevent this sort of thing. When people disregard safeguards in cases such as this, it causes issues with the public trust, your fellow employees, and others," Woodward added.

In addition to the theft cases, Halfmann received over $77,000 of fraudulent overtime pay. As an exempt school district employee, Halfmann was not entitled to overtime pay. The former employee was also ordered to pay $213,987.79 in restitution for the theft and overtime/payroll fraud.

One issue at the heart of the trial was the fact that the school district had filed a claim with their insurance company and received a $100,000 settlement. Halfmann's attorney, Tip Hargrove, felt that the insurance company was not the victim and that the district was not entitled to $100,000 in restitution. The defense attorney also argued against any prison time in his closing arguments, "Taking a 54-year old woman with severe health problems and putting her in prison is retribution, not rehabilitation."

Hargrove requested deferred adjudication, arguing that Halfmann was not a threat to the public, would likely never work in a position of trust again, and had health problems. He requested a sentence of 120 months of deferred adjudication "rounded down to 110 months."

Hagrove said that $75,000 in restitution could be paid over those 110 months, leaving a lump sum of around $39,000. His sentencing recommendation left out the $100,000 that the insurance company paid to the district.

119th District Attorney John Best disagreed with Hargrove in his closing arguments, "I do not see a problem with our restitution request. I can't see any sense in how someone could steal $214,000 and not have to pay all of it back. It was 7 years of stealing. It's such a breach of trust with the people of the community."

Ultimately, Woodward agreed with Best and chose the harsher punishment of prison time and full restitution.

Another issue was Halfmann's retirement with the state. After being terminated on October 1, 2018, Halfmann cashed out her state retirement, in excess of $70,000, on November 1st.

There will be a full story of the thefts and complete story on the proceedings in a separate article.