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The Trombetta indictment: A triple shame

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Monday, Aug. 26, 2013, 9:00 p.m.

In the end, it was nothing more than an old-fashioned skimming operation. At least that's what federal prosecutors in Pittsburgh allege in an 11-count indictment for mail fraud, filing false tax returns and conspiracy against Nick Trombetta.

Mr. Trombetta, 58, of East Liverpool, Ohio, was the brain trust behind the Pennsylvania Cyber Charter School, the state's largest. Prosecutors laid out a complicated scheme in which they allege Trombetta set up company after company to siphon nearly $1 million for his personal use.

They were, of course, taxpayer dollars.

Trombetta's accountant, Neal Prence, is charged with filing those bogus returns.

The indictment is a triple shame. First, there's the alleged violation of public trust. Then there's the fact that Trombetta was considered something of a savior for Midland, the beleaguered Beaver County community that the charter school helped revive. And then there's the taint left on the school, not implicated in the charged funny dealings and considered to be a great success.

But the indictments also have renewed the debate over the amount of taxpayer dollars given to cyber charter schools — whether they should receive the same per pupil amount as their bricks-and-mortar counterparts, considering the latter's claimed higher overhead.

The implication is that Pennsylvania Cyber Charter's supposed lower cost structure left a bolus of extra money that led to Trombetta's alleged abuse. By all means, let's have that funding formula debate. But let's not employ a bogus cause and effect in the process.

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