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Accountant for former PA Cyber Charter founder wants to nix plea deal, keep CPA license

Brian Bowling
| Wednesday, April 19, 2017, 1:24 p.m.
Neal Prence of Koppel leaves U.S. District Court, Downtown, after pleading not guilty to tax fraud charges connected to Pennsylvania Cyber Charter School founder Nick Trombetta.
Dave Conti | Tribune-Review
Neal Prence of Koppel leaves U.S. District Court, Downtown, after pleading not guilty to tax fraud charges connected to Pennsylvania Cyber Charter School founder Nick Trombetta.

A Beaver County accountant wants to back out of a plea agreement in an $8 million charter school fraud case to shorten his sentence and possibly keep his CPA license, according to a motion filed Tuesday in federal court.

Neal Prence, 61, of Koppel doesn't claim he is innocent but does challenge how much of a tax loss he caused when helping Nick Trombetta avoid federal income taxes on public money he siphoned from the Pennsylvania Cyber Charter School.

Prence wants to cancel the plea agreement and plead nolo contendere, which means he wouldn't challenge his conviction but also wouldn't admit guilt.

“He's going to plead one way or another, but he's going to contest the loss,” said his attorney, Stan Levenson.

The U.S. Attorney's Office declined comment.

Former PA Cyber Charter CEO Trombetta, 62, of East Liverpool, Ohio, pleaded guilty in August to using the school's money to fund a lavish lifestyle that included buying a Florida condominium, homes for his girlfriend and mother and a jet airplane. He is scheduled to be sentenced June 20.

His sister, Elaine Trombetta Neil, 59, of Center pleaded guilty in October 2013 to filing a false individual income tax return on her brother's behalf. She is scheduled to be sentenced July 14.

As part of his plea agreement with the government, Prence agreed he caused a tax loss of $250,000 to $500,000. He now contends the loss connected to his actions was “minimal or non-existent,” according to the motion.

The loss amount is one of the main factors that determines the length of a defendant's prison sentence in a federal tax case. Prence contends that his role in Trombetta's conspiracy didn't cause any tax loss, Levenson said.

“He's saying in terms of his responsibility, there's no tax loss,” he said.

Prence also wants to change his plea to improve his odds of remaining an accountant, the motion says.

Unlike a guilty plea, a nolo contendere plea can't be used as an admission of guilt in any subsequent civil or criminal proceeding, which would mean his plea couldn't be used to take away his C.P.A. license, the motion says.

Brian Bowling is a Tribune-Review staff writer.

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