Trombetta tried to woo Franciscan University officials with Florida trip

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Franciscan University of Steubenville leaders who went with Pennsylvania Cyber Charter School founder Nick Trombetta to a Florida condo last year did not, in the end, do business with him, a spokesman for the school said today.

A joint FBI and IRS affidavit unsealed Thursday said that Mr. Trombetta used a Florida condominium, allegedly purchased with funds that originated with the school, to "entertain" university personnel, in hopes of getting a contract for a business he controlled.

Tom Sofio, a spokesman for the university, wrote in an email response to questions that two officials took the trip to Florida.

"Similar to how other high-level contracts are handled, the then-president of Franciscan University of Steubenville, Father Terence Henry [of the Third Order Regular branch of Franciscans] and the executive vice president, Dr. Robert Filby, did attend a meeting at Mr. Trombetta's house in Florida in June 2012 to discuss the contract being offered."

He did not detail the proposed contract, and wrote that it was never executed. He wrote that federal investigators have not contacted the university.

Father Henry is now the university's chancellor.

Franciscan University of Steubenville had a business relationship with Avanti Management Group, a consulting firm which, according to federal prosecutors, was central to Mr. Trombetta's efforts to shift money from PA Cyber to businesses that he could tap to cover his expenses.

In 2010 and 2011, the university contracted with Avanti to design a master's degree program to train educators to teach online. Around 140 PA Cyber employees went through the program, with their tuition covered by the school.

A proposed contract between the university, dated May 2012, would have granted to Avanti 38 percent of the tuition paid by students of the online curriculum, in return for the firm's work on managing, marketing and maintaining the effort, plus securing its data, the Post-Gazette reported in November. That pact was never consummated, and the school's relationship with Avanti ended.

Mr. Trombetta has pleaded not guilty to an 11-count indictment accusing him of mail fraud, theft or bribery from a federally funded program, tax conspiracy and filing a false tax return.

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Rich Lord:, 412-263-1542 or Twitter @richelord. First Published September 20, 2013 3:00 PM


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