PITTSBURGH (KDKA) — What began as an on line school with a few hundred students has grown into an empire, developing curriculum and spawning cyber schools throughout the nation.

But now the founder of the Pennsylvania Charter Cyber School, Dr. Nick Trombetta, finds himself the target of a federal grand jury questioning whether he got rich using taxpayer money.

A corporate plane, expensive homes and sprawling real estate holdings. Did your school property tax dollars pay for all this?

That’s what a federal grand jury in Downtown Pittsburgh is investigating. They have targeted the school founder, Dr. Nick Trombetta.

In little more than a decade, Trombetta and his one-time associates at PA Cyber have created a half dozen related entities that have now drawn federal scrutiny.

In July, agents raided the PA Cyber offices.

The agents also descended on a small house in Koppel, Pa., where several for-profit corporations founded by former PA Cyber employees are registered.

KDKA Investigator Andy Sheehan knocked on the door of the home, but no one would open the door.

The FBI and the IRS Criminal Division raided the offices, confiscating computers and records, trying to pierce the corporate veil and determine whether the officers in these corporations enriched themselves using public tax dollars.

Palatine Development has no other office, no website or known business, but records show that it’s recently purchased close to $1 million in properties from NNDS.

Also, Trombetta purchased a luxurious Spanish getaway in exclusive Bonita Springs, Fla., last year for $900 thousand and then sold it to Palatine Development for $10.

To get there, Palatine owns a twin-engine Piper PA 31 at Beaver County Airport.

The plane has been grounded since the raid, but flight records show it had been flying to destinations around the country on a weekly and even daily basis this past spring.

Incorporation papers say Palatine was founded two years ago by Brett Geibel, a former PA Cyber administrator who is being looked at by the grand jury. Geibel is also the head of the Avanti Consulting Group, which operates out of a sprawling farm in Ohio that was also raided by the FBI in July.

Since that raid, the PA Cyber Board, which is cooperating with the federal probe, has fired the school’s top managers and is distancing itself from the past.

“Obviously, this investigation centers around Nick Trombetta, and they know they’re going to be under scrutiny, so they want everything to be pristine,” said Robert Stewart, attorney for the board.

PA Cyber Charter School Fires 4 Top Administrators (9/19/12)
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