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Rhine sentencing postponed to August

Prosecutor, expecting birth of second child, requested continuance

By Phil Ray

pray@altoonamirror.com

The sentencing of a former Hollidaysburg firefighter charged with embezzling more than $1.5 million in federal grant funds has been postponed until August.

Benjamin Allen Rhine, 49, was scheduled to appear before Gibson on May 17 for sentencing on one count of conversion of government funds and additional counts of filing false income tax returns.

Rhine requested continuances of his sentencing hearing because he wants to appear in person before the judge, but the federal court in Johnstown, like courts throughout Pennsylvania, has been conducting business through video conference using the Zoom platform due to COVID-19 restrictions.

Rhine entered his guilty pleas Sept. 25, and sentencing was initially set for Feb. 2.

He requested a continuance, which was granted. The new sentencing date was April 1.

That too was continued until May 17, but on Thursday, U.S. District Judge Kim R. Gibson received a request from the prosecutor asking for a continuance because his second child is expected to be born that week.

Gibson continued Rhine’s sentencing hearing until Aug. 19.

Rhine was a veteran firefighter for the Phoenix Volunteer Fire Company in Hollidaysburg, and in 2013 became the coordinator for federal grant funds totaling $5.1 million.

The money was to be used by more than 30 volunteer fire departments in Blair and surrounding counties to provide perks and equipment as a way to attract new volunteers.

The Phoenix Volunteer Fire Company applied for the grant from the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

The effort was called the Allegheny Mountain Firefighters Initiative.

According to a presentation by Assistant U.S. Attorney Arnold Bernard, Rhine took $1.5 million from the account for his own use, an amount, Bernard stated, that “vastly exceeded” his salary as coordinator.

Another leader of the local fire company, Chief Anthony J. Dibona, 57, was assistant coordinator for the grant program. He was charged earlier this year with one count of embezzling government funds with additional counts of filing false income tax returns.

He pleaded guilty in March.

Dibona’s sentencing hearing will be before Gibson on Aug. 2.

Gibson ordered the federal probation office to prepare a presentence report in the Dibona case by June 2.

According to a plea agreement with the government, Dibona agreed to pay $24,864 plus interest on the income taxes he owes.

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