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Harsh words at Sylvia Handy sentencing

Sylvia Handy Leaving Federal Court

A federal judge had harsh words for all sides during the sentencing of former Hidalgo County Commissioner Sylvia Handy.

The former Precinct 1 Commissioner appeared for sentencing before U.S. District Court Judge Ricardo Hinojosa in McAllen on Friday afternoon.

Handy pleaded guilty earlier this year to harboring illegal immigrants and tax evasion.

Testimony in hearings reveald that the former county commissioner hired illegal immigrants as county employees but had them working in her home and later would cash one of their checks to pay for her debts.

In the Friday sentencing hearing that lasted more than two hours, Judge Hinojosa sentenced Handy to two and a half years in federal prison to be followed by two years of probation.

He also ordered Handy to pay a $7,500 dollar fine as well as $3,357 in restitution to the Internal Revenue Service.

Judge Hinojosa had sharp and harsh words for Handy and prosecutors in the case.

Sylvia Handy's Letter

The federal judge asked Handy at the beginning of the hearing if she wanted to make a statement.

Handy sobbed and cried as she read a prepared statement in open court.

Recording devices are not allowed in federal court and a transcript of the proceedings were not immediately available but these are notes taken from Handy's reading of the statement:

"Judge...I never imagined I would be in a situation like this....

I was raised in a Catholic family....

I was taught to be honest, loyal, trustworthy...law-abiding....

I've never been in jail before....

Due to my irresponsible actions, my heart has been destroyed...

I am deeply sorry and regretful....

I know my actions were wrong....I will have to live the rest of my life with what I have done and the pain I caused my family.

(I let down) my family, friends, community, constituents...everyone who has trusted in me...by not adhering to the core values instilled in me...

Judge I ask for your mercy as we try to rebuild our lives...

May God Bless us all..."

Judge Hinojosa responded with some harsh words.

"Miss Handy...you just don't get it...," Judge Hinojosa said in open court. "We're on the same track again...you refuse to be honest with yourself. We can't continue this charade there today..."

Judge Hinojosa asked Handy several times during the sentencing what she thought she did wrong.

At one point, Handy replied that she was "overwhelmed" by the case and her bid for re-election.

Handy tried to say that she first learned that she first learned about the immigration status of the employees in January 2007.

But Judge Hinojosa quickly dismissed it based on information in a presentencing report and testimony from previous hearings that revealed she had known since 2001 and had hired multiple illegal immigrants.

"I have to say Mrs. Handy...your attitude has been one of the least accepting of responsibility I've ever seen," Judge Hinojosa said.

Defense Attorney Al Alvarez

Handy's attorney Al Alvarez asked Judge Hinojosa to give his client probation but Judge Hinojosa quickly denied the request.

"Probation..," Hinojosa asked. "For someone who hasn't accepted responsibility?

Alvarez argued that a lot of people heavily involved in the cases were given immunity as prosecutors tried to single out his client.

Handy has a high school education and three years of college but made a salary of $90,000 dollars at Precinct 1 where she oversaw about 120 employees.

"She's been a loyal, committed and dedicated public servant," Alvarez said of Handy.

Judge Hinojosa replied that those accomplishments were eclipsed by the allegations.

"Having considered all those positive things, there are some contrasts," Hinojosa said in court.

At another point in the sentencing hearing, Judge Hinojosa said he received 47 letters of support from members of the community.

Among the letter writers, were Precinct 1 residents who asked for leniency because Handy built roads and drainage improvements.

Judge Hinojosa said a number of veterans also wrote in support of Handy to say that she held events for them that drew hundreds of people.

Hinojosa said seemed surprised that veterans could defend Handy.

"It's a trampling of those who have given their lives for this nation," Hinojosa said in court.

Alvarez tried to argue for a lower sentence but Hinojosa reminded him of Handy attempts of witness tampering and obstructing justice when she produced a "last-minute" letter drafted by one of her phantom employees.

"If she hadn't done it, Handy would've had 18 to 24 months at sentencing," Hinojosa told Alvarez.

Prosecutor David Rodriguez

But Handy and Alvarez weren't the only ones who received rebukes from the bench.

Judge Hinojosa openly criticized prosecutor David Rodriguez for not filing stronger charges against Handy.

Hinojosa said prosecutors could have charged Handy with corruption charges or even hiring an illegal immigrant instead of just harboring and illegal immigrant and tax evasion.

"Why did you not bring the theft of services or embezzlement," Hinojosa questioned Rodriguez from the bench. "For a year and a half, you allowed her to be a county commissioner."

Rodriguez replied that he felt the charges were appropriate.

"We decided these were the charges we could prove without a reason of a doubt, if we went to trial," Rodriguez said.

Rodriguez said Handy had nine co-conspirators including her husband and eight Precinct 1 employees.

Among the employees named was Handy's assistant, Joseph Palacios who won the Democratic Party nomination for the Hidalgo County Precinct 4 Commissioner seat earlier this year.

"The scheme stretches all the way to the county seat," Rodriguez said of Handy abusing her post to hire illegal immigrants.

Hinojosa was quick to reply.

"She was charged with harboring and concealing not hiring an illegal alien," Hinojosa said from the bench.

Prison Date

Despite the harsh words, Hinojosa let Handy walk out of the courtroom until the date of her federal prison assignment.

Defense attorney Alvarez asked that Handy be allowed to voluntarily to surrender for her prison sentence and Hinojosa agreed.

Handy is expected to report to the court at 2 p.m. on Friday, August 20th.

On the way out of the courthouse, Handy said she was glad the "ordeal" was behind her.

"God bless Hidalgo County and God bless the United States," she told reporters outside the courthouse.

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