Ex-superintendent wants to withdraw plea

JOHNSTOWN – A former Glendale School District superintendent wants to withdraw his guilty plea to misappropriation of federal funds he entered 30 months ago because he claims authorities convinced him the money had been used for computer projects that had not been completed when – as it turned out – they had been.

The federal government, through U.S. Attorney David J. Hickton, has answered the petition filed by an attorney for Dennis L. Bruno, who resigned in 2008, stating the former superintendent understood what he was doing when he appeared before U.S. District Judge Kim Gibson and several times told the judge he was guilty.

“I acknowledge my guilt,” Bruno told the judge during his plea hearing on May 5, 2011.

At another point, he said, “I wish to plead guilty, your honor,” according to the federal petition filed Monday in the U.S. District Court clerk’s office in Johnstown.

In a third instance, Bruno stated he deeply regretted misappropriating $49,600 sent to the school district to improve computer services for students.

Federal prosecutor Stephanie L. Haines of Johnstown said Bruno and his attorney, William A. DeStefano of Philadelphia, have not met the criteria for withdrawing a guilty plea.

She said Bruno wants to withdraw his plea based on “an alleged misunderstanding of what he was pleading guilty to, and based upon the loss of his retirement.”

By pleading guilty to the federal charge, Bruno, who was a teacher and administrator for 30 years, said he lost his $84,000 annual school pension through the state.

The prosecution said that “bald assertions” of innocence are not sufficient for a withdrawal of a guilty plea in federal court.

DeStefano said the Bruno case is unique and interesting because in his 40-plus years as a defense lawyer involving white-collar crime, he has never had a defendant seek to withdraw his plea.

But, he said, the circumstances in the Bruno case are unique because his client was under the impression that he authorized payment to a Harrisburg firm, Sting Communication, for computer services thinking the company had completed its work for the Glendale School District and completed another $414,000 project to improve computer services to 14 other Cambria County school districts, when the government claimed the projects were not done.

As part of his plea, Bruno agreed to work with federal authorities in the continuing investigation into the company, its CEO and a grant consultant. Because of that agreement to cooperate, Bruno’s sentence on the federal charge was delayed.

In May, the prosecution decided not to file charges against Sting and its officials after the investigation showed the projects had been completed.

The government contends Bruno gave a statement to investigators that he authorized payment of $20,000 in September 2005 to Sting, suggesting the money be used to pay a consultant allegedly for services having nothing to do with the purpose of the grant, according to federal charges.

Another $18,784 went to Sting, it is alleged, also to pay for work that was not done.

And, finally, Bruno allegedly admitted placing $10,816 in the school’s general fund so he could attend specific conferences.

Bruno’s attorney said the government has presented no affidavit from any investigator indicating Bruno ever gave such admissions to investigators.

As for the money used to attend conferences in instructional technology, Bruno maintained they were disclosed to the Department of Education in a grant performance report, and those expenses were approved by his school board.

“Thus it can hardly be claimed that these approved expenses amounted to an intentional misapplication of monies belonging to the Glendale School District,” according to Bruno’s attorney.

Bruno, an Altoona native and former Altoona Area school teacher, moved to Utah after leaving the Glendale district.

He worked for a school district in Utah, said DeStefano, but now does tutoring, Internet instructional work and other part-time jobs.

His attorney said Bruno was “tech savvy.”

Mirror Staff Writer Phil Ray is at 946-7468.