JOHNSTOWN - Former Glendale School District Superintendent Dennis L. Bruno was sentenced Tuesday to 10 months' home detention and five years' probation for misapplying federal education funds earmarked for the extension of Internet services to the Glendale Yearound community.
Bruno must repay the U.S. Department of Education $49,600 and perform 500 hours of community service, according to the sentence handed down by U.S. District Judge Kim Gibson.
The 63-year-old educator, who also lost an $80,000 annual state pension because of his conviction, told the judge: "I did everything I could to move the kids along. I thought I did." Defense attorney William A. DeStefano of Philadelphia fought successfully to avoid a prison sentence for Bruno.
Federal sentencing guidelines called for at least 10 months in prison, but DeStefano argued that Bruno had an honorable career as an educator.
The misapplication of funds, DeStefano stated, was "a highly aberrational occurrence" in Bruno's life, noting he did much good and was law-abiding.
"I don't think incarceration is necessary here. There is virtually no chance he's going to go out and commit a crime or that he needs rehabilitation," DeStefano argued.
He said for 35 years, Bruno was a teacher in his native Altoona, then a principal, assistant superintendent and superintendent at Glendale.
"He had to be doing something very, very right in those school districts (to receive the promotions)," said DeStefano, adding Bruno was responsible for bringing the Internet and the use of computers, iPads and other electronics to Glendale students.
His efforts represented "a tremendous boost in education in Glendale," the defense attorney argued.
Gibson, in his sentencing statement, said he believes Bruno's crime was an "aberration," and he granted DeStefano's request to place Bruno on probation.
In 2005, Bruno applied for U.S. Department of Education funds to extend Internet services to a community in the school district.
But U.S. Attorney Stephanie L. Haines said that after filing the application, Bruno proceeded to send emails to officials of Sting Communications, which was installing Internet services in the area, indicating he would send at least some of the money to the company.
Haines said the $49,600 in question went to Sting and to travel expenses used by Bruno.
The money was not used to help the students at Glendale and was not used for the purpose for which it was earmarked, Haines said.
Bruno pleaded guilty in 2011 to the misapplication of federal funds and agreed to help the government investigate a suspected larger misuse of funds, $440,000, by Sting and two company officials, Darol Lain and Dave Watkin.
The investigation included several meetings between Bruno and federal investigators, as well as the recording of telephone conversations between Bruno and the officials. When it was completed, the FBI decided not to bring charges.
Bruno's sentencing was then scheduled, but at that point, he hired DeStefano as his attorney and decided to withdraw his guilty plea, noting he only entered a plea because he thought the Internet services had not been completed as planned.
He learned, however, they had been installed.
In June, Gibson refused the request to withdraw the plea.
Haines was upset as she presented the government's side of the story, stating Bruno had unfairly implied that federal investigators had mislead him into pleading guilty.
She even asked that Bruno be sentenced at a higher level for obstruction of justice by now proclaiming his innocence.
Gibson ruled that Bruno had helped the government with its investigation of Sting and did not penalize him for attempting to withdraw his guilty plea.
Bruno, after leaving the Altoona area, settled in Utah and taught at Legacy Preparatory Academy at Woods Cross, Utah.
The school sent a letter on Bruno's behalf, stating he was a "compassionate" teacher who showed a great concern for the students he served. He lost his job at Legacy because of his court problems.
Another letter described Bruno as an "honorable man that cares about others."
Bruno's son, David, called his father "a doer," adding: "He doesn't sit around. I can't get him to sit still. He's always doing things for me, my family, his students, kids."
The former superintendent now spends his time tutoring needy children in North Salt Lake, Utah.
DeStefano said he will appeal Gibson's ruling, rejecting Bruno's request to withdraw his guilty plea. That appeal will go to the U.S. 3rd Circuit Court of Appeals.