CLEVELAND (WJW) – The man accused of stealing thousands of dollars in field trip money from kids across the state and embezzling $1.5 million from his family’s company will be sentenced in federal court Thursday.
Joseph Cipolletti pleaded guilty to multiple charges in June 2022, including wire fraud, bank fraud, money laundering and lying under oath.
Prosecutors say Cipolletti stole the money while vice president of the now-bankrupt Discovery Tours between June 2014 and December 2018.
His crimes came to light several years ago when school after school had their paid-in-full field trips abruptly canceled without notice, impacting 5,000 families across the state.
“Initially we thought this was just a bad business deal and the calls kept coming in and it grew from district to district throughout our county and throughout the state,” said Brad Gessner, chief council with the Summit County Prosecutor’s Office.
The Summit County Prosecutor’s Office contacted federal authorities with the U.S. Attorney’s Office and FBI because they knew they would “have the better chance to make victims whole in this case.”
Cipolletti is now scheduled to be sentenced Thursday in Federal Court in Cleveland.
In court documents, federal prosecutors said Cipolletti knew what he was doing and should be punished accordingly.
They’re asking for “70 to 87 months” in prison, or five to seven years and full restitution of $1.5 million.
But Cipolletti’s attorneys are arguing for a lighter sentence.
They say although he used the money for home improvements and vehicles, the money was “primarily for company business” and that “the family is close” and that no one from the family has come forward in the case.
The defense argues that the loss amount should be reduced and focus on students and parents.
As such, they believe a loss amount of “approximately $90,000 would be more fair, more accurate.”
But Gessner disagrees.
He says Cipolletti’s family members are also victims and that everyone deserves restitution.
“He didn’t just hurt children, he hurt his entire family,” said Gessner. “Again with those children who were all excited about going on those trips to have that pulled out from under them, it’s nice for them to see that several years later that justice still occurred for them.”
Once the sentencing has occurred, Cipolletti will be ordered to pay thousands of dollars to all of the families who lost the money they paid to Discovery Tours.