VIRGINIA — A Cass County man has been sentenced to almost three years in prison and ordered to pay hundreds of thousands of dollars in restitution after being convicted of stealing from two school districts while he was superintendent.
Daniel Brue, 48, of Virginia was sentenced Monday to two years and nine months in federal prison. His sentence will be followed by three years of supervised release. He also must repay more than $343,009 stolen from school districts in eastern Illinois, according to federal court documents.
Brue pleaded guilty to four counts of wire fraud. Court records show that while he was superintendent of Bement Community Unit School District and later Meridian Community Unit School District, both near Decatur, he created and registered a fictitious company called Ideal Consulting and Construction of Petersburg.
That bogus company was used to bill the school districts for work that was never actually performed from 2011 until about 2019. Payments included thousands of dollars for asbestos abatement, roof repairs and heating-air conditioning-ventilation system repairs and upgrades, according to court records.
"Brue did not appear to care about the significant harm this could have caused. If asbestos removal and containment were legitimately needed, the school districts would have declined the services, believing the work had been done," according to the federal government's sentencing summary.
Brue's scheme started to unravel when he told a school employee to give him the checks to Ideal Consulting so he could hand-deliver the payments. The employee raised a concern with school district officials, who called for an outside audit.
He initially denied any wrong-doing to auditors, but then detailed what had been done and asked that he be allowed to talk to his wife — whom he said knew nothing about the scheme — and to say goodbye to his co-workers, and then he would turn himself in to authorities. Prosecutors said in a sentencing commentary that, after admitting to the thefts, he maintained a "level of entitlement and control which frankly border(ed) on delusional."
A torn-up note found in his office trash can several days after he left on July 26, 2019, instructed his wife to spend his school-funded retirement, "so the schools would not be able to get their money back," according to court documents.
The note apologized for letting his family down and for "staining the family name." It also said not to spend "too much money on funeral expenses for me. I don't deserve anything elaborate." It instructed her to quickly spend about $250,000 he had stashed away, according to court records.
Prosecutors said the note did not contain the words of a repentant man.
"Even contemplating his own suicide, Brue continued to plot how to hide money from his victims. Brue directed his wife to use his school district-funded retirement money as soon as possible so that the school districts could not get it. ... These are words of cold calculation. Far from wanting to make his victims whole, Brue wanted to ensure that his wife spent the money, so his victims could not recover it," the government's sentencing report said.
U.S. District Judge Colin S. Bruce said during this week's hearing that Brue's scheme was not simple and that Brue took great efforts to conceal the thefts while using his position of trust. His actions, the judge said, would have a long-term detrimental impact on school districts that already were struggling.
"School superintendents and other public servants serve as leaders and role models to students and the community at large. When they abuse the public trust, prosecution serves to restore the trust and reminds us all that public misconduct will not be tolerated," acting U.S. Attorney Douglas J. Quivey said.
Agents from the FBI's Springfield office investigated the thefts and said the sentencing sends a message that the FBI will continue to dedicate resources to stop anyone who engages in fraudulent activity to deprive others.
"School districts, especially those in our rural areas, count on every penny to provide a quality education for their students," Springfield FBI Special Agent in Charge Sean M. Cox said. "Over the span of eight years, Daniel Brue embezzled school funds, funds which could have been put toward valuable supplies for the students and staff. Mr. Brue deprived students, and the educators teaching them, from having all available resources to provide the best educational experience, and that can never be replaced."
Assistant U.S. Attorneys Rachel Ritzer and Melissa Moody prosecuted the case.
After leaving the school district, Brue went to work at JBS USA in Beardstown, where he was assistant human resources manager, according to a letter in his support filed with the court. Brue remains free on bond until he reports to prison on Sept. 21.