Editor's note: This was voted the No. 4 story of 2013 by the Morning Journal news staff.
EAST LIVERPOOL - Most in the community were surprised by the news in August that Liverpool Township resident Dr. Nick Trombetta had been charged with siphoning more than $8 million from the PA Cyber School through a web of companies.
Trombetta, 922 Rhovanion Drive, had served 12 years in the city school district as a teacher and coach, then as a principal in Aliquippa before taking on the job of superintendent in Midland, Pa., for seven years, during which he formulated the plans for PA Cyber.
With the startup of PA Cyber, the Lincoln Park School of Performing Arts and other cyber-related businesses, Trombetta had often been credited with "saving" the borough of Midland, which had fallen on hard times in 1982 with the closing of Crucible Steel.
When the announcement came of his indictment, however, it came after long-standing rumors of an intensive investigation about his involvement with the cyber school and the other companies that resulted from its inception.
The indictment covers the years 2006-2012, during which Trombetta drew annual salaries of up to $141,000, and U.S. Attorney David Hickton has been quoted as saying, "As the founder and CEO of PA Cyber, Trombetta was a custodian of the public trust, receiving public funds."
According to Hickton, Trombetta manipulated companies he created and controlled so he could draw more money from the school which he spent on himself; real estate including a Florida condo for nearly $1 million and homes for his mother and girlfriend; even a $300,000 plane.
Among allegations against him is funneling money through Avanti Management Group, a for-profit company that did contract work for the National Network of Digital Schools, a nonprofit which managed the cyber-charter school and developed its curriculum.
He is also accused of creating another company, Presidio Education Network, last July which officials said enabled him to move more than $3 million out of Avanti's bank accounts while his financial records were being investigated.
PA Cyber and NNDS continue to operate under new management and are not included in the indictment.
Area residents pored over a 68-page affidavit and search warrant that became public in September, reading more details about the indictment which included news that the investigation began after two of Trombetta's associates approached the FBI and were granted immunity from prosecution.
Search warrants were issued for Trombetta's office at the PA Cyber Midland headquarters; the Koppel, Pa. office of his accountant Neal Prence; the homes of Trombetta's mother and sister; and the local office of Avanti.
Prence has also been indicted in the case, with Trombetta's mother and sister also facing tax charges.
Trombetta has pleaded not guilty to the 11-count indictment, as has Prence.
Also in September, the PA Cyber School board voted to stop paying Trombetta's legal fees, having already paid at least $200,000 to his attorney, according to published reports.
A spokesman with the U.S. District Attorney's office said the case is pending trial, with no date set.