Second in a series
Right up to the day of her sentencing, Lisa Hall continued to believe her stepfather and step-grandfather – her bosses at Texas Aviation – would step up and take responsibility for their roles in the scheme in which the company overbilled the federal government for its work on Blackhawk helicopters.
”I just kept thinking, at some point, this is all going to be OK and I won’t go to prison,” she said.
In court, the elders and minister David Bennett from the Springtown Church of Christ sat with the family and friends of Lisa’s husband – Pat Hall. Lisa’s dad and his wife, and Lisa’s mom were also there.
After Judge John McBryde pronounced the verdict, the silence was deafening.
“I walked out of there in shock and unbelief,” she said. She and Pat went over to a stairwell and talked for a minute, then went back to the others for hugs and a prayer. She was never handcuffed and led away but was given three weeks to self-surrender at the prison.
“You’re just, ‘There’s no way this is happening.’” Pat said. “It’s a flawed system. It’s a ridiculous system.”
“Pat and I drove home and went to the lake and sat and just cried and cried,” Lisa said. “I kept thinking, ‘How am I going to tell my children goodbye?’”
Pat said it was only then that the reality flooded him – his wife, his kids’ mother, was going to prison.
“I never thought about it up until that point,” he said. “It never hit me that this was for real.”
Lisa said that initially, she and Pat just “rejected” the verdict. They were in denial.
“We took a week to pray about it and let the Lord work because we did not believe this was God’s plan. So for a week, we just didn’t prepare. It drove Pat’s family crazy.”
Finally they decided to tell the kids.
“I still tear up when I think about that,” Pat said. “It was the most crushing thing, to see their reaction, how they responded – to see that at 8 and 6 they understood what was going to happen.”
The day they told them, the kids were with Pat’s brother, Mike, and his wife, Sabra, at their home near Springtown. Lisa and Pat decided to tell them separately, so they went and got Zach. They brought him back to their house. Lisa said he was actually excited, thinking something good was about to happen.
“They didn’t know anything,” Lisa said. “All they knew was that they weren’t seeing their other grandparents.” But Zach, a bright 8-year-old, quickly caught on.
“We just asked him, ‘Do you remember where Mommy used to work?’ I told him about my job, how I took care of the bills we sent to our customers, and one of our customers was the United States Army,” she said. “I told him that Mommy overcharged the government, so Mommy’s going to have to go away for a little while.
“Mommy has to go to prison.”
Tears welled up in her eyes at the memory of his tears. But he quickly became analytical, searching for a way to alter the outcome – talk to the judge, or just go get some money and take it to them.
“I told him, ‘We’re doing everything we can, but we have to do this,’” she said.
They had a week.
Pat said the way Lisa handled it, and the way the kids took it, helped him get through it.
“I have levels of anger and outright rage,” he said. “Her faith through all this, her patience and her willingness to just get through it – and the way the kids took it – helped me a lot.”
Lisa said it was important to her to be honest with the kids.
“Our children can sense from us,” she said. “It was a big deal to me to be strong for them, so they could see that I was OK. ‘We’re going to get through this. This is all going to be over one of these days. Do you trust us? It’s going to be hard, but we’re going to get through it.’
“Every time we’d struggle; we’d come back to that. I still fight it, but I had had this conversation with God where I just said, ‘I don’t understand it, but if this is what You need me to do, let’s do this.’
“I can’t sit there and lie to my kids,” she added. “They knew I would never leave them unless it was absolutely out of our control. Telling them from the get-go was a good foundation. I saw lots of people down there that their children didn’t know, but you can’t keep it from them.”
They drove Zach back to Springtown and picked up Erin. At age 6, she didn’t get as much detail, and Lisa said she did not seem upset.
“She was very confused,” Lisa said. “She had just started kindergarten, and she and I argued a lot. When we told her Mommy was going away for a little while, I think I saw a little smile. But when the word ‘prison’ was mentioned, it hit her.” At first Lisa and Pat thought Erin might not have such a tough time – but the opposite turned out to be true.
When it came time for her to go, Zach was the tough one, and Erin took it hard.
Savannah, the baby, was 21 months old and too young to understand – but she was a “mama’s girl” having had her mother with her day and night, all her life.
It was not easy to think about letting go of any of them.
“We spent the last week doing nothing but fun stuff,” Lisa said. “We did it all and videotaped it all. We went to the zoo, to Six Flags, Incredible Pizza – we had the time of our lives. We laughed like nothing was going to happen. It was a great week. When it came time to go, the evening before, we made cupcakes, popped popcorn, folded out the couch-bed and had a movie night.”
MAKING THE LONG DRIVE
The next morning, Mike and Sabra stayed with the kids while Pat’s parents, Jerry and Tootie, drove Pat and Lisa to the Federal Prison Camp in Bryan, 95 miles northwest of Houston – a minimum security facility that houses about 800 female inmates.
“They didn’t want Pat driving back by himself,” she said.
There were three things Lisa absolutely had to take with her, she said – her wedding ring, a cross necklace and a Bible. Carrying her original ring, with diamonds, into prison was out of the question, so she and Pat had bought bands with the inscription, “God be with us, together and apart.” But she was told that inscription wouldn’t be permitted, either. Finally, after several stops along the road, they found her a basic band at Wal-Mart.
She took in a cross necklace. Her leather-bound study Bible was not allowed, so Pat sent her a paperback Bible later.
She had been able to talk with a couple of people about their experiences in prison and had gotten some helpful advice.
“One of my cousins’ boyfriends had done state time and he told me, ‘You’re strong, you’ll get through this, you’ll be fine. Just keep your eyes down and mind your own business, and you’ll be fine.’”
Those words rang in her ears as she learned to ignore the foul language, the illicit relationships and the general coldness that comes as a shock to someone who has been surrounded by friends and family throughout her life. Lisa goes quiet, her eyes downcast, when the talk turns to prison life.
Her husband does not.
“What hurt the most was that it was taking her from them,” Pat said, nodding toward the kids. “It hurt four different ways – for her and for these three. It’s God just punching you in the face.”
On Easter Sunday, after she had pleaded guilty, Lisa talked with her mother.
“I talked with my mom and asked her, ‘Why will Tim and Woody not talk to the investigator?’ She said it was fear. She said they were afraid they would lose everything.”
“I told her I’d already lost everything – their definition of ‘everything’ was just different from mine.”
FROM SURVIVING TO THRIVING
“Lord, it’s just You and me now.”
That was Lisa’s prayer as she checked in at the Federal Prison Camp at Bryan on Aug. 6, 2010. After saying goodbye to her in-laws, she and Pat went off alone. They talked, prayed, and then she took the loneliest walk of her life.
“They took me right in to R&D (receive and discharge),” she said. “In my mind, I just couldn’t believe this was really happening. I still prayed and said, ‘Lord, I know You’re powerful enough to change it.’”
But it didn’t change.
After filling out the paperwork, Hall went into a small, all-metal holding cell with a toilet in the corner and one little bed. She saw a psychologist and a counselor and got medical screenings, including a TB test. Admission also included a strip-search – a demeaning process, but one Lisa was prepared for because she knew it was coming. She surrendered at 2 and was in her room in time for the 4 p.m. head count.
The cinder-block room was cold and damp. There were two bunk beds, four lockers, a window, a desk and a chair. She had two cellmates.
“When you’re in there, it’s all khaki – khaki slacks and khaki shirt with a T-shirt underneath,” she said. “But when you first get there it’s khaki scrubs because you have to go to the laundry to get your uniforms. I got there on a Friday and laundry was already closed for the week, so I wore that R&D uniform until the next Monday. It’s obvious you’re brand-new.”
Both of Hall’s cellmates were younger than she was – a tough-looking African-American woman and a Hispanic girl who was very quiet. Neither had any use for the new roommate.
“It was a very difficult room,” Hall said. “Everything that came out of their mouths was cussing, dirty and sexual. I stayed out except for count and sleep time. They didn’t want me to put things on the table or put my shoes under the bed – it was always something with them.”
The first few days, Hall stayed busy with medical and dental visits. After that, inmates report to their assigned dorm unit and help clean. Hall kept her head down and her mouth shut for the most part but finally decided to ignore a piece of advice she’d been given.
“I had been told, ‘You don’t want to tell them you like to cook because they’ll put you in the kitchen, and it’s disgusting.’” she said. “But they had a lot of menial jobs in the kitchen. You’d have to do 90 days rolling silverware, scrubbing pots and pans, mopping floors or hauling ice. So I talked to the staff and said I sort of like to cook, so they gave me a chance.
“I’d much rather be busy than do 30 minutes worth of work and then sit the rest of the day. I know you’ve got to be busy to pass the time.”
That became her mantra – and busy she was, doing dinner every night for about 800 people.
“The days were all alike,” she said. “I had visitors every weekend, so they gave me Saturdays and Sundays off. They didn’t have to do that, but they do have to let you go to visitation. I did that for 90 days and loved every minute of it.”
Hall said she got lots of compliments on her cooking, and it made her happy to think she’d brightened someone’s day in that dreary place. She was able to get into another room after just a couple of months, and so her living situation improved as well. Her former roommates even became cordial once she moved out.
Meanwhile, her family was working hard to keep their lives together – and to keep her part of them.
JUDGE: A ‘PUZZLING’ CASE
Company owners absent at sentencing hearing
Lisa Hall entered a guilty plea on April 2, 2010, to the charge of filing a false claim against the United States. Testimony at her sentencing hearing on July 16 supports her assertion that although she did commit a crime, she was acting under the direction of her bosses – her stepfather and his father – neither of whom was charged.
One of the witnesses, special agent Rey Garza of the Army’s major consumer fraud office in Arlington, testified that five people could have faced criminal charges, including Hall, the assistant who changed the data at her request, Tim Woodard, his wife Olga (Lisa’s mother) and his father, Carl “Woody” Woodard.
Lisa never saw the contract, nor did she profit from the fraud.
Lisa’s mother testified, “There was a mistake made that was not intentionally for any kind of benefit for Lisa.” Under further questioning by Judge John McBryde, she reiterated, “It was not intentional.”
“Did somebody at the company tell Lisa to make up those times, the time that was devoted to the Blackhawk contract when it, in fact, wasn’t?” the judge asked.
“Lisa was given direction by the owners of the company,” she said. “They had the final decision on the amount of billing.”
“Who told her to do that?” he asked again.
“It would be Tim Woodard and Carl Woodard.”
“You mean when she made up the false invoices, she would confer with the owners of the company?”
Hall said the instruction to change the invoices came from Tim Woodard. Unfortunately, any documents that might have supported that claim no longer existed.
“I’m trying to see and get in front of me what she was talking about,” the judge asked. “Has the government had any of these things she said she marked on?”
Assistant U.S. District Attorney John Bradford said he’d seen one page that appeared to be a listing of time, and there were some handwritten changes made on it, including the handwritten notation “per Tim Woodard.” But, he added, that was at the Defense Criminal Investiation Service (DCIS) office in Arlington along with the rest of the evidence.
“What happened to the other sheets of that nature?” the judge asked. “You told me you were making a record when your stepfather told you to put a false time there. You made a record that he told you to do it and the date he told you to do it?”
“Correct,” Hall replied. “Yes, sir.”
“But you don’t know what happened to those records?”
Later in the hearing, Bradford said, “They were all operating together in a fraudulent scheme.”
In asking for a lesser sentence, Hall’s attorney Mcak Daniel pointed out that Hall, 34, had three children including a 2-year-old, no bad habits and no previous criminal history.
The judge pointedly asked the U.S. Attorney, “What’s happened to the other criminally responsible participants, Mr. Bradford?”
Bradford said there was simply no physical evidence.
“The only information that we have with regard to … Carl Woodard and Tim Woodard is the information that is provided verbally by primarily the defendant in this case,” he said. “We’ve found little information, other than one or two pieces of paper, to show that there was communication or direction that flowed down. Based on the investigation, I have no doubt that such information and direction flowed down from these two individuals – ”
“The two Woodards?” the judge asked.
“From the two Woodards to [Hall] to do what she did,” he answered. “Unfortunately, the witness told the court the paper – the majority of all the paper that she had that documented the meetings and the directions for those false invoicings no longer exists. Our searches at … Texas Aviation Services [indicates that] those documents no longer exist there. We have found no place where they do exist.
“The juncture where my belief is one thing and what I could actually prove beyond a reasonable doubt to a jury would be something else,” Bradford added.
“You don’t think the jury would believe the defendant?” the judge asked.
“I’m not sure that they would believe the defendant,” he said, “and even if they did believe the defendant, that that belief would overcome a defendant who took the stand and stated that he didn’t know what they were talking about and he was …”
“You’re anticipating that Mr. Woodard would simply deny that he ever told her to do that?”
“I have met with both counsel for Mr. Woodard, both Woodards previously, during the course of this investigation, and neither has indicated that either client was interested in meeting with or cooperating with the government in this investigation,” Bradford said.
Judge McBryde took a 25-minute recess, then came back and pronounced the sentence.
“This has been an unusual and difficult case,” he said. “The situation with the family is the most puzzling I’ve ever seen. Her mother is up here pleading for all sorts of mercy, and her stepfather, who, apparently, is still married to the mother, has had it within his power to help her and has chosen not to, apparently.”
But he sentenced Hall to 27 months, full restitution of $315,661, and three years of supervised release after she gets out of prison. She was ordered to surrender by 2 p.m. Aug. 6.
The Woodards would pay the restitution, but Lisa would do the time.