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Ex-Clairton manager is sentenced in bid rig theft

| Thursday, Jan. 17, 2013, 3:37 a.m.

A former Clairton business manager who pleaded guilty last summer to one count of theft in a bid-rigging scheme has been sentenced to five months in a halfway house, then five months of house arrest.

Ralph Imbrogno, 65, of Elizabeth Township will serve the home confinement as part of a three-year probation period ordered Wednesday by U.S. District Court of Western Pennsylvania before Judge Cathy Bissoon. The scheme he participated in also involved former West Mifflin Area School District superindentent the late Patrick A. Risha,

Upon his release from confinement, Imbrogno will have to begin paying $94,439 in restitution for school district painting contracts he helped his son Anthony Imbrogno receive between May 30, 2008, and March 2, 2010.

“I realize there was damage done to the school district,” Imbrogno told the court. “At the time, it was too good to be true and it turned out, it wasn't good.”

Imbrogno and his attorney Dan Konieczka had asked for leniency in sentencing from the judge, saying Imbrogno had only participated in the scheme to help his son get his painting business started and that Imbrogno hadn't personally benefited from it.

Frank Imbrogno, testifying as a character witness for his brother, said, “When he was involved with this, his sole purpose was to help his son.”

It was an argument the judge didn't buy, noting Imbrogno's actions were carried out to benefit a close family member and that there was no proof he hadn't personally benefited.

The judge said Imbrogno's lack of a criminal history, his acceptance of responsibility and remorse for actions were factored into her sentencing decision, but she noted Imbrogno's career in public service and betrayal of the public trust were also being considered.

Imbrogno was hired as Clairton city manager in January 2000, and was furloughed in June 2010.

Under sentencing guidelines, Imbrogno was facing 10-16 months incarceration; one to three years supervised release; restitution; and $3,000 to $30,000 in fines.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Carolyn Bloch said the facts of the case didn't support a downward variance on sentencing requested by the defendant.

Bloch said Imbrogno's characterization of the events as a lapse in judgment on his part was “make believe.”

“With each payment to his son's business there was profit motive involved,” she said.

Bloch noted that Risha and Imbrogno at first only awarded projects that didn't exceed $5,000 to the son's company, Imbrogno Painting, on a piecemeal basis to avoid any bid requirements under the law. She said the two men became greedy and expanded the size of the contracts to amounts exceeding $10,000, which require a competitive bidding process, at which point Imbrogno presented erroneous higher bids from other contractors so his son's company would be awarded the jobs.

Bloch noted the interior painting awarded to Imbrogno Painting was work that had previously been carried out by district staff. She said Risha — who was hired at West Mifflin Area in 2006, resigned from that post in 2009 and died in 2010 — ordered district maintenance supervisor Sandra Wells to make sure the work was done by Imbrogno Painting.

Bloch said neither Wells nor the district's business manager Dennis Cmar saw the submitted bids and that Cmar had begun to question the projects because of the costs.

Bloch said if all the projects awarded to Imbrogno Painting were considered, including the ones that were under the $5,000 amount, the loss to the district was closer to $200,000.

Konieczka had argued the bid rigging was aberrant behavior on Imbrogno's part but the judge did not agree, and noted the scheme required significant planning.

A private investigation conducted in the West Mifflin Area School District in 2010 found that Risha had school district employees perform work at the home of then-school board member Albert Graham on school time without receiving additional compensation. Graham was investigated by the state Ethics Commission in 2011 on accusations he used his position to have district employees perform work at his home, and subsequently was ordered to reimburse the district for the cost of those services.

West Mifflin Area school board president Phil Shar, who attended the hearing, said he is pleased with the outcome.

“I'm very happy that the district is going to get $94,000 back in restitution,” he said. “I hope this is the first of many dominoes.”

Imbrogno said he, too, was relieved by the outcome of the hearing.

“It could have been a lot worse,” he said.

Eric Slagle is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-664-9161, ext. 1966, or eslagle@tribweb.com.

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