Sylvia Handy breaks silence about phantom employees

Court documents

She's a criminal in the eyes of the law, but former Hidalgo County commissioner Sylvia Handy continues to claim she's innocent.

"I am not guilty I am innocent of all the charges that were lodged against me."

It's her first candid interview since serving prison time.

"It was a unit, where we had 200 women in on unit, I was in the B unit, there were 4 of us to a cell."

Handy is telling her side of the story exclusively to Action 4 News.

She says she was never asked by any investigating agency about the "phantom employee" claims, and when the first woman came forward she tried to tell law enforcement.

"A woman who was working for me came to my house and said they are talking about me. She wanted to turn herself in, I called the sheriff to tell him and he didn't call me back for 2 weeks."

Handy spent time in prison for collecting checks in her county office for people who did not work there. She says the positions were filled by people but they were undocumented immigrants using someone else's social security numbers.

"It wasn't me, It wasn't my job to verify someone's social security number or take their application, that was the job of the payroll department."

As for the convictions of harboring illegal immigrants and using county funds to pay them at her home, Handy says she didn't know the people working for her here were not legal residents.

"Whatever babysitters I had here, I paid out of my own money. I may have had the mother working here and the daughter working there (the county) and the sister worked here and the other sister worked at the county but it was not the same person working here and there."

She's been found guilty on state charges now and will have 7 years of probation, still the former politician says she was in the dark about all of it.

"There's a great need here in the precinct so it took me out of the office for different projects, meet with constituents, and while I was doing my job I relied on those in the office to do what they were supposed to be doing. "

During our visit to her Weslaco home, Handy spoke about the county office as if she was still working there. She says her commitment was always to the community but she can't see herself ever giving that much of herself again.

"I don't think anybody every complained about my work. I got reelected 4 times, I was commissioner 12 years prior to this."

Handy's personal life unraveled just as fast as her career.

"By the time I got out of prison, my husband had left me and took everything in my home, I found my home completely abandoned and he took my son. I'm going through a divorce right now."

She's only been home since last Fall and has yet to get the house where it was before the scandal erupted

"Until my personal life is back in order and back to normal, I will take it day by day."

Many of those days will include reports to her probation officer as she fulfills her 7 year sentence. It's much better she says then going back behind bars.

"I was in solitary confinement here in the jail that I helped build for more than 6 months."

While she feels betrayed by the same county she represented for more than a decade, Handy is fessing up at least to letting the crimes slip past her."Maybe there was not enough supervision over these employees, maybe there was something to keep better track over them, but I have to take responsibility, I was the commissioner, I was the department head."

Although she's been proven guilty in court and served time and whether the public believes her side of the story or not, Sylvia Handy says she doesn't lose any sleep at night.

"When you're innocent and you haven't done anything wrong, that's what makes you strong"

She was found guilty on eight state charges including public corruption on Thursday. In addition to probation, she will have to pay $150,000 in restitution.

She said she will have to get a job to pay it back.

She is considering going back to where she started as a court clerk.