Feds want data protected in cyber fraud case
The federal government has some information in the Nick Trombetta case that is so sensitive that it doesn't want the public to know it exists, according to a court document filed Friday.
A federal grand jury on Aug. 23 indicted the founder of the Pennsylvania Cyber Charter School and his accountant, Neal Prence, on fraud and tax-evasion conspiracy charges. By law, prosecutors have to let the pair and their attorney see the evidence that will be used against them.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Stephen Kaufman filed a complex motion Friday that essentially asks U.S. District Judge Joy Flowers Conti to keep the contents of a second motion secret. The second motion, for a protective order, seeks to keep something else in the case secret.
Kaufman said the double layer of secrecy is warranted because the motion for the protective order “reveals a matter which should not be disclosed publicly” and even the reasons for keeping that matter secret shouldn't be disclosed.
University of Pittsburgh law professor David Harris said protective orders in criminal cases typically seek to shield either witnesses or protect ongoing investigations aimed at other people.
“With these protective orders, it's a guessing game,” he said.
It is unusual for the government to want to shield the reason that it's seeking the protective order, Harris said.
The U.S. Attorney's Office declined comment.
Trombetta, 58, of East Liverpool, Ohio, and Prence, 58, of Koppel pleaded not guilty last week and remain free on bond.
U.S. Attorney David Hickton said the pair committed an intricate fraud, mostly with taxpayer money, that used the school that Trombetta founded in 2000 and a string of spinoff companies to pad Trombetta's pocket with nearly $1 million.
Trombetta left the Midland school last year just before agents searched his offices at the school and elsewhere. He used the money for living and entertainment expenses and to buy property, including a condo in Florida, his girlfriend's home in Ohio and an airplane, prosecutors say.
Prence helped Trombetta and leaders of two shell companies prepare false tax returns that hid about $8 million from the Internal Revenue Service over six years, prosecutors say. The leaders of the shell companies have not been charged.
Hickton said the investigation continues.
Prosecutors said employees of PA Cyber and a related nonprofit who did work that earned Trombetta money did not know about the scheme and that PA Cyber did nothing wrong.
When Trombetta and Prence were arraigned last week, Assistant U.S. Attorney Robert Cessar said a tap on one phone yielded so much evidence that investigators set up a database to track it.
One use of a protective order is to prevent defendants and their lawyers from sharing information the government gathered on other people during an investigation.
Brian Bowling is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-325-4301 or email@example.com.
Show commenting policy
TribLive commenting policy
You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.
We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.
While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.
We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers.
We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.
We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.
We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.
We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.
- Storm could drop 4-6 inches of snow on Pittsburgh area
- Grandview development plan inches ahead in Mt. Washington
- Catholic Diocese of Pittsburgh doubles goal with $230M pledged in largest fundraiser
- Project to End Human Trafficking volunteers help Uganda
- Mt. Lebanon High School to sell its planetarium equipment
- Long-term solution for wastewater disposal eludes shale gas industry
- Newsmaker: John O’Brien
- UPMC to debut organ transplant surgery outside Pittsburgh
- Man arrested in massive Homestead fire
- Greenfield Bridge implosion to close Parkway between Christmas, New Year’s
- Jan. 31 fundraiser to aid Homestead’s recovery from fire