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Release sought for former fire chief

Defense attorney asks for ‘small downward variance’ from sentencing guildelines

The defense attorney for the former chief of the Phoenix Volunteer Fire Department in Hollidaysburg, who is to be sentenced this coming week for embezzling more than $50,000 from a government grant, is asking the federal judge in the case to grant his client supervised release as opposed to a term in prison.

The former chief, Anthony J. Dibona, 58, in March entered guilty pleas to one count of conversion of government funds and four counts of filing false income taxes, all felonies.

U.S. District Judge Kim R. Gibson is scheduled to sentence Dibona on Wednesday in his Johnstown courtroom.

Assistant Federal Public Defender Christopher B. Brown last Tuesday submitted a

sentencing memorandum asking the judge to grant a “small downward variance” from sentencing guidelines that recommend 12 to

18 months imprisonment in

Dibona’s case.

The defense attorney pointed to Dibona’s lack of criminal history, his work history, his lifetime of public service and the support Dibona has received from the community as reasons to grant a variance from the guidelines.

Specifically, the defense is requesting Judge Gibson sentence Dibona to one day in the custody of the U.S. Marshal’s Service followed by two years of supervised release.

For the first six months of supervised release, Dibona would be on electronic monitoring.

The sentencing memorandum stated that Dibona will also be required to make restitution to the federal government of more than $80,000, figures that includes $57,242 the former chief admitted to embezzling from the grant and $24,864 in unpaid taxes.

Brown indicated 13 letters have been submitted on Dibona’s behalf from many firefighters and others who know him, including: long-time chief, now retired, of the Altoona Fire Department Reynold D. Santone; present Blair County Coroner Patricia Ross, who hired Dibona as one of her deputies, and the present president of the Phoenix Volunteer Fire Department, Mark Slonaker.

Dibona was among a group of firefighters who in 2012 applied for and received a federal grant of $5.2 million to aid area volunteer departments in their recruiting and retaining of firefighters.

The grant was to address the need for volunteers.

The money was awarded through the Federal Emergency Management Agency, but, as the defense memorandum stated, it came with rules, recordkeeping and reporting requirements.

Dibona was appointed as a part-time grant administrator while Benjamin Allen Rhine, also a volunteer firefighter, was named the full-time coordinator of the program.

Dibona was to be paid $25,000 for his part-time work while Rhine was to be paid $45,000 as full-time administrator.

Rhine was charged last year with embezzling $1.59 million from the grant and his sentencing hearing has tentatively been set for Sept. 13.

“For his part, the government agrees that Tony played a minor role in the offense,” according to Brown’s memorandum.

Rhine, it stated, “was involved in the offense as well but to a much, much greater degree.”

The memorandum focused on Dibona’s 40 years as a volunteer firefighter.

He has served as firefighter, Emergency Medical Technician, and a fire investigator, the memorandum said.

Dibona served as chief of the Phoenix Department for much of the last eight years but has recently stepped down.

Over the years in which he performed his work for the fire department, he also worked full-time in the grocery business, and most recently as the owner of a lawn care and snow plowing business.

The memorandum stated that Dibona accepted responsibility for what occurred and stated, “His actions cast a dark shadow on an otherwise productive and law-abiding life.”

Assistant U.S. Attorney Arnold P. Bernard, Jr., who prosecuted both Rhine and Dibona, has not submitted a sentencing memorandum, and the plea agreement between the federal government and Dibona did not address the sentence that was to be imposed.

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