While the true story behind HBO's new film “Bad Education” involves several embezzling conspirators, the movie focused primarily on former school superintendent Frank Tassone and his personal fall from grace.
Tassone, as portrayed by Hugh Jackman, was once the charming superintendent of the Roslyn School District in Long Island, which he helped turn into one of the top districts in the nation. By 2004, he was in handcuffs. A determined reporter at the school’s newspaper — portrayed in the film as Rachel Bhargava (Geraldine Viswanathan) — uncovered that Tassone and other school officials had been embezzling taxpayer money over a number of years, leading to their arrests. Subsequent investigation determined the amount of ill-gotten cash was in the millions.
In the movie, Tassone is portrayed as duplicitous, not only about the money he was stealing, but also about his personal life. While he presents himself as heterosexual in his work life, he actually has a male partner in Tom Tuggiero. Tuggiero, played by actor Stephen Spinella, is based on Tassone’s real-life partner Stephen Signorelli, who was also arrested and sentenced in 2006 for his part in the embezzlement scheme, the New York Times reported.
Furthermore, the film shows Tassone falling in love with a former student named Kyle Contreras, played by Rafael Casal. Tassone takes trips to see Contreras, an exotic dancer, in the Las Vegas area, keeping the dalliance hidden from Tuggiero. He even buys a house with Contreras and was arrested in Nevada while out visiting him.
Was this secret boyfriend real?
Yes and no.
The real-life Tassone said on the Coach Mike Podcast that he and Signorelli were in an open relationship when Tassone began dating a man in Nevada.
“I did not keep secrets from Stephen,” he said, adding that they still have a “wonderful relationship” and have been together for 45 years.
Tassone had been dating a man named Jason Daugherty, an exotic dancer and former motorcycle salesman living in a Las Vegas suburb, around the time of his arrest. As the film suggests, the couple did close on a house together in real life, according to New York Magazine’s 2004 story “The Bad Superintendent.”
A 2004 Las Vegas Sun news brief even listed Tassone as a new resident of the area. Daugherty reportedly received packages from Tassone each week for about a year before Tassone’s arrest.
However, despite the movie depiction of Contreras as a former student, Daugherty had no prior connections to the Roslyn school district, Tassone maintains.
“What bothered me terribly was that it was never a former student,” Tassone said on the Coach Mike podcast. He said he met Daugherty in Nevada.
While Tassone did conceal his sexuality from his peers, he said he did so only because he felt like he would be judged if he didn't. He once felt passed over for a job because of his sexuality and he didn’t want that to happen again, he explained on the Coach Mike podcast.
Tassone told the school district he was widowed when he applied for the job — which he told the podcast was true. Tassone said his wife Joanne died of cancer at a young age, in 1973, and he loved her very much. He also said he's attracted to both men and women.
He met Signorelli in a bar after his wife's death, he said, and shared the news of their domestic partnership with certain people, so it wasn't a total secret.
Overall, Tassone said on the podcast that he didn’t like that his sexuality was a theme in the movie at all, noting that “we’re in the year 2020.”
“I don’t understand why they had to bring my sexuality into the film,” he said.
Tassone, now 73, was sentenced in 2006 to four to 12 years in prison for larceny after admitting to taking $2.2 million from his school district. He was released early in 2010 after exhibiting "good behavior and completing rehabilitative programs while incarcerated," Newsday reported at the time. He was put on probation until 2018. As the film points out, due to a "New York State pension law oversight," he still collects $173,495.04 a year. He will be getting this money for the rest of his life.
He has repaid all the money he stole.
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