Elaine Trombetta Neill, the sister of indicted Pennsylvania Cyber Charter School founder Nick Trombetta, pleaded guilty today to filing a false income tax return at a hearing that was as much about him as about her.
Ms. Neill, 56, of Aliquippa, was tearful throughout the hearing before U.S. District Judge Joy Flowers Conti. Asked by the judge whether she falsified her 2010 tax return, including in it income that she did not earn and expenses she did not incur, she said, "Yes, your honor."
Assistant U.S. attorney James Wilson outlined the evidence in a lengthy summary aimed squarely at Mr. Trombetta.
He said that Ms. Neill set up a business called One2One, which opened an account with a $30,000 check from Martlin Management. That company has been involved in managing construction projects involving PA Cyber.
He said the business's account received, from 2006 through 2011, more than $1.4 million in deposits from entities that did business with PA Cyber, including the Buckeye Online School for Success and Avanti Management Group. Ostensibly, One2One was performing consulting work for the companies, the prosecutor said.
"In reality," Mr. Wilson said, "the pretense of One2One as a legitimate business was used merely as a cover for the fact that the One2One bank account served as a convenient conduit through which Dr. Nicholas Trombetta could channel money to himself, his sister, his mother and other persons," said Mr. Wilson.
For instance, he said, One2One reported $27,500 in "rent or lease" expenses on its 2010 tax return. That reflected payments to Mr. Trombetta and Ms. Neill's mother, supposedly for the business's use of a room in her house.
Ms. Neill and her attorney, James Ross, declined immediate comment.
The judge scheduled sentencing for Jan. 17, but Mr. Ross said he may seek a postponement "so that she can fulfill all of her obligations to the United States and get full credit for that."
Mr. Trombetta, who left PA Cyber in June 2012, has pleaded not guilty to 11 counts of mail fraud, theft or bribery from a program receiving federal funds, tax conspiracy and filing a false tax return. All are related to alleged diversion of around $1 million from the school, through NNDS and Avanti and into a web of other businesses controlled by Mr. Trombetta.
Rich Lord: firstname.lastname@example.org, 412-263-1542 or Twitter @richelord. First Published October 8, 2013 8:00 PM