Trombetta claims government used illegal evidence in PA Cyber Charter School charges


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Seeking to defeat a federal criminal case against a cyber school pioneer, attorneys for Nick Trombetta on Wednesday accused prosecutors of improperly recording conversations involving his past lawyers.

Mr. Trombetta, the founder and former CEO of the Pennsylvania Cyber Charter School, claimed in a 44-page court memorandum that federal agents used informants and wiretaps to capture conversations and emails with, or involving, five attorneys.

Some of those attorneys represented PA Cyber or its vendors and subcontractors, but the memorandum claims that they also represented Mr. Trombetta of East Liverpool, Ohio. He faces charges of mail fraud, theft or bribery, tax conspiracy and filing a false tax return related to his involvement in various entities that did business with PA Cyber.

Washington, D.C., attorney Adam S. Hoffinger wrote in the court filings that federal investigators "wired informants to record conversations with lawyers who the government knew were providing legal advice to Trombetta." The investigators, according to Mr. Hoffinger, then misrepresented information they gleaned to get a warrant to tap Mr. Trombetta's cell phone, and to search his email and various offices and residences.

They asked U.S. District Chief Judge Joy Flowers Conti to give them access to grand jury minutes, so they can determine whether the information was used to get the indictment. They also want Judge Conti to consider dismissal of the indictment, or suppression of portions of the government's evidence.

U.S. Attorney David Hickton's office declined comment.

The defense's filings, which were partially redacted on the public docket, indicate that the recorded conversations were between Mr. Trombetta and attorneys Joseph Askar, W. Timothy Barry, Ralph Monico and Leo Daly. They represented various entities with ties to Mr. Trombetta or PA Cyber.

The filings also reference attorney J. Alan Johnson, who was Mr. Trombetta's original defense attorney, but due to redactions it is unclear whether the conversations captured were with Mr. Johnson, or just about him.

Mr. Johnson and Mr. Barry could not be reached. Mr. Daly and Mr. Monico declined comment through an attorney.

Mr. Askar referred requests to his attorney, Stanton Levenson, who also represents Mr. Trombetta's former accountant, Neal Prence. Mr. Prence, of Koppel, has pleaded not guilty to tax conspiracy.

Mr. Levenson said he will join the effort to dismiss the charges, because the government isn't allowed to pry into communications between an attorney and client. Mr. Askar represented PA Cyber's nonprofit management company, said Mr. Levenson, but also "represented Nick [Trombetta personally] on various things from time to time."

Mr. Askar is Beaver County's solicitor.


Rich Lord: rlord@post-gazette.com, 412-263-1542 or on Twitter @richelord. First Published June 4, 2014 9:15 AM

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