William Rullo, who stole nearly $400,000 from the First Judicial District of Pennsylvania while he worked there as a procurement technician, will serve as an example to discourage others from violating the public trust, a federal judge said as he sentenced Rullo last Wednesday to 33 months in prison.

“I do it with a heavy heart,” U.S. District Judge Stewart Dalzell of the Eastern District of Pennsylvania said. He explained that he had to impose a heavy sentence because the theft, which spanned a decade, was so “highly corrosive” to the public’s trust in the court, an institution that serves justice.

“There’s really no higher calling than that,” Dalzell said.

The fact that Rullo’s theft kept increasing over 10 years was disturbing, Dalzell said, as he puzzled aloud at the reason for it since Rullo had come from an upstanding family.

Rullo’s lawyer, Brian J. McMonagle of McMonagle, Perri, McHugh & Mischak, had argued for a downward variance from the sentencing guidelines for his client since Rullo’s mother is ill and he is one of her caretakers.

Dalzell set the sentence to begin January 15 to allow Rullo time to get his affairs in order and help his mother and family.

“Why in the world did you do this?” Dalzell asked Rullo, who answered, “I don’t want to use the word addiction, but I got caught up in this.”

Over time, Rullo’s schemes for siphoning money from the FJD’s coffers became more elaborate, William Inden, of the U.S. Attorney’s Office, told the court. It started with Rullo getting phones for his family and grew into Rullo renting parking spaces on behalf of the court with extras that he sold for his own profit, Inden said. Rullo would have the court pay for a case of SEPTA tokens every month for $1,300 and then sell them to a co-worker who was unaware of the scheme for half that amount, Inden said. He would doctor credit card bills to make purchases look legitimate, Inden said, and, finally, in 2008 and 2009, Rullo started forging the signatures of district judges and the director of administrative services on requisition forms in order to get $65,000 worth of flat-screen televisions that he had reported as a security system.

“He got more and more brazen and more and more bold,” Inden told the judge, advocating for a stiff sentence.

Dalzell gave Rullo a sentence near the bottom of the guidelines, he said, and noted that he was moved to impose a hefty sentence rather than grant Rullo’s request for a variance largely because Rullo had not only violated the public trust by stealing public money, but because it was the court’s money. That “puts it in a special category, don’t you think?” Dalzell said, since the court’s business is to do justice.

The sentencing guidelines gave a range of 33 to 41 months, according to court papers.

“We take people’s liberty here very seriously,” Dalzell said, explaining the difficulty in deciding “how much is enough.”

Sentencing isn’t a science, Dalzell said. “It’s not even an art.”

Rullo is upstanding in many ways, Dalzell said, noting that he takes care of his family, but, on the other hand, Rullo has 10 years of “highly corrosive activity” that tarnished the FJD.

“Heavens, this is a court,” Dalzell said, adding that the public could legitimately ask, “Good grief — is nothing sacred?”

As Rullo addressed the court, he said that he had been spinning out of control and knew that it would end this way, but he couldn’t stop.

“There is no explanation why I was doing this,” he said, since he wasn’t supporting a drug or gambling habit.

“That’s what I mean,” Dalzell said, wondering aloud about the reason for the theft.

Rullo said he had thought he was helping other people, but ultimately realized that he was only hurting himself.

Rullo pleaded guilty to one count of mail fraud in August and agreed to pay $433,000 in restitution, according to court papers.

Dalzell said Rullo would have 14 days to make any appeals to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit.

McMonagle couldn’t be reached for comment after the sentencing.

Saranac Hale Spencer can be contacted at 215-557-2449 or sspencer@alm.com. Follow her on Twitter @SSpencerTLI. •