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Ex charter-school board prez sentenced to a year

The former board president of the Philadelphia Academy Charter School was sentenced yesterday to a year and a day in a federal lockup and fined $10,000.

The former board president of the Philadelphia Academy Charter School was sentenced yesterday to a year and a day in a federal lockup and fined $10,000.

Rosemary DiLacqua, 51, of Faunce Street near Lawndale Avenue, in Burholme, pleaded guilty in July to honest-services fraud in connection with accepting $34,000 in secret payments and loans from two former chief executive officers of the school, Brien Gardiner and Kevin O'Shea.

O'Shea, 50, was sentenced in October to three years in federal prison for stealing $900,000 from the school and for filing a false tax return in 2006. He surrendered to the Bureau of Prisons on Dec. 7.

Gardiner, the school's founder, who had been a target of the federal investigation of the Northeast Philadelphia charter, died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound last May.

DiLacqua, a retired Philadelphia police detective, was board president of Philadelphia Academy, which opened in 1999, from early 2000 until May 2008.

Authorities said that she had not disclosed a $15,000 loan that she received from Gardiner in May 2002, a $9,000 loan from Gardiner for one of her sisters in January 2005 and a $10,000 cash payment from Gardiner and O'Shea in August 2007.

Neither loan was repaid, authorities said. DiLacqua admitted yesterday that she accepted the $10,000 cash payment from Gardiner in a bank bag and then deposited it into her credit-union account.

As a public official, DiLacqua was required by ethics laws to disclose the payments.

During a 44-minute plea for house arrest, she told Robreno that she was "1000 percent wrong" to have taken the payments and not disclosed them, but said that she had been "blinded" by her trust in Gardiner and O'Shea.

She said that the $15,000 loan had been made at a time when her family had financial problems, and that she thought that Gardiner's gesture was "genuine" and not an effort to manipulate her.

"I was duped by him," DiLacqua told Robreno.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Derek Cohen said that Gardiner and O'Shea may have "clouded [DiLacqua's] judgment," but she "allowed it to happen."

The feds said that DiLacqua approved a 20-year consulting contract for Gardiner in September 2007 that would have paid him $100,000 annually for 20 years for no more than 90 days of work each year.

That same month, O'Shea was named CEO and in October 2007 DiLacqua approved a raise that increased his salary to $204,000 annually.

Although there was not enough evidence to establish a quid pro quo between the official acts and the loans and cash payment, Robreno asked: "What was the defendant thinking? What possible motive did O'Shea and Gardiner have to give the defendant $34,000?"

Robreno said DiLacqua's wrongdoing had to be weighed against her personal characteristics.

Top police officials and friends testified that DiLacqua had made numerous civic contributions and that her autistic son would regress if she was incarcerated.

However, two parents whose children formerly attended Philadelphia Academy testified that their children's educational opportunities had been stolen because DiLacqua wasn't vigilant. (Authorities said that O'Shea and Gardiner were involved in widespread fraud at the charter from March 2002 to May 2008.)

Robreno did not set a date for DiLacqua to report to federal prison, and she remains free on bail.

Defense attorney Mark Gott-lieb asked that the report date be deferred until June, by which time the U.S. Supreme Court is expected to rule on a case challenging the constitutionality of the honest-services law.

Robreno denied the request, but asked Gottlieb to file court papers.