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July 16, 2014

Guilty plea stands for former school official

FLINTON — The former superintendent of the Glendale School District in Flinton, who pleaded guilty in May 2011 to misappropriating nearly $50,000 in federal education grant funds, was barred from withdrawing his guilty plea.

Court documents filed in August last year show that Dennis Bruno, 61, asked to change his plea because it was initially entered without his full understanding of the offense at issue. He also claimed he did not know he would lose his $1.5 million state pension as a result of his conviction.

The memorandum opinion filed by U.S. District Judge Kim Gibson on June 25 categorically dismantled Bruno’s stance. The document quoted several previous federal court precedents relating to the seriousness of a guilty plea once entered.

“... It is itself a conviction. Like a verdict of a jury it is conclusive,” the memo quotes from the 1927 case Kercheval v. United States.

“(A) shift in defense tactics, a change in mind or the fear of punishment are not adequate reasons to impose on the government the expense, difficulty and risk of trying a defendant who has already acknowledged his guilt by pleading guilty,” the memo continues, quoting a 2001 case United States v. Brown.

During Bruno’s waiver of indictment hearing, on the day he entered his guilty plea, he is repeatedly quoted as acknowledging the charges being leveled against him. His defense attorney, Art McQuillan, informed the court that he had “frequently consulted” with Bruno for a year before his plea hearing.

“I have no questions, your honor. I understand the charge completely,” Bruno is quoted as saying in the document.

Bruno had been working with Lebanon-based Sting Communications Inc. to develop a high-speed Internet infrastructure at the Glendale Yearound community. The district would use approximately $49,600 of a federal Fund for Improvement of Education grant. Work was set to take place from October 2005 to July 2006.

Authorities charged Bruno after it was found he signed off on education department documents showing the work had been completed, when it hadn’t.

“The project has been very successful. The community now has Internet access as well as the school,” Bruno is quoted in the document as stating in a grant performance report.

In 2010, after Bruno became the target of an investigation on behalf of the FBI, state attorney general and the U.S. Department of Education, he told investigators otherwise.

“Dr. Bruno admitted to me that ... the service at the Glendale Yearound was never completed,” the document states, quoting education department investigator George Blissman.

Bruno is set to be sentenced in August.

Justin Dennis is a multimedia reporter for The Tribune-Democrat. Follow him on Twitter @JustinDennis.

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