The Tribune Democrat, Johnstown, PA

Local News

October 24, 2013

Ex-school chief asks to withdraw guilty plea

FLINTON — Former Glendale School District superintendent Dennis Bruno, who pleaded guilty in May 2011 to intentionally misappropriating federal grant funds awarded to the district, has filed a motion asking to withdraw his plea, according to a federal court document filed Aug. 21.

The document states Bruno was not informed by the court or his legal counsel prior to his plea hearing that entering a guilty plea would result in the loss of his $1.5 million state pension.

The Glendale district, based in Flinton, includes Reade and White townships in Cambria County and parts of Clearfield County. Bruno resigned as superintendent after being suspended in 2008.

Bruno’s motion takes aim at two counts of federal program theft, the circumstances of which reportedly have changed following federal investigation.

The first stipulation is a nearly $50,000 payment Bruno authorized to deliver a high-speed Internet infrastructure to the Glendale Yearound community. The second is a roughly $414,000 payment for the same type of project at 15 school districts in Cambria County.

Both payments were made to Sting Communications Inc. of Lebanon. Federal investigations were opened for both the grant consultant who worked with Bruno, David Watkin, and the CEO of Sting, Daryl Lain. Bruno’s sentencing was delayed multiple times as he cooperated in the investigation.

Investigators submitted that Sting did none of the work, according to the document, although Bruno signed off on it to the Department of Education. That was what drew the federal allegations of grant misapplication.

But the document states that in a consensually recorded phone call between Lain and Bruno, Bruno was assured the Yearound work was completed. And Sting has a track record of providing connectivity to communities that aren’t serviced by the major broadband providers.

“Thus, it appears that Dr. Bruno would have had no reason to question Sting’s assurances that it had completed the project,” the motion states.

In May, proof that Sting had completed the work at Glendale Yearound, as well as made a “good faith effort” to finish the work at area school districts, was submitted to the government.

In addition, Sting has since agreed to refund a large portion of the $414,000 it was appropriated for the project.

Prosecution against Lain and Watkin was dropped.

This reversal gave Bruno’s counsel the grounds to request that the court re-examine the legitimacy of the charges against Bruno.

According to the document, Bruno pleaded based on an understanding that he had violated a federal statute regarding false certifications on contract work such as Sting’s broadband project.

A footnote near the end of the document states, however, that the assistant U.S. attorney general assigned to Bruno’s case indicated that Bruno admitted prior to his guilty plea that he knew the work wasn’t finished.

“I deeply regret my signing certifications that proved to be false,” reads a statement from Bruno included in the motion. “I accept my responsibilities for my actions. I did not fulfill my obligations as superintendent to do as much due diligence as possible while working on these projects.”

According to factual affirmations cited in the document, Bruno was responsible for much of the Glen­dale School District’s technological advancement since he joined the administration in 1998. That was when the district maintained only a handful of vintage Apple computers. By 2008, the document states, each student had a personal laptop for school and home use.

But Glendale administrators, like former board president Jack Mulhollen, said they felt Bruno did not have the district’s best interests at heart during his time as superintendent.

“I think we were sold a bill of goods,” Mulhollen said during a press conference at the high school in February 2011.

“I think we do feel betrayed.”

Justin Dennis is a multimedia reporter for The Tribune-Democrat. Follow him on Twitter at www.Twitter.com/JustinDennis.

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