Friday, 19 February 2016

The downfall of a petty tyrant                     

In the city of Schenectady, in the State of New York, a school maintenance man named Steve Raucci worked his way up the ranks for 30 years, until finally he was the head of the local Civil Service Employees Association (CSEA) unit for operations and maintenance in the city’s schools and as such, he was literally in charge of the maintenance department. That's when he started messing with his employees. He teased them at meetings, was punishing them with crummy work assignments or worse yet; he was secretly slashing their tires in the middle of the night. Raucci was later put on trial in Schenectady County Court for allegedly igniting explosives and vandalizing homes and cars of those who crossed him—some of whom are school employees.

Schenectady County District Attorney Robert Carney has collected Raucci’s extensive personal notes, thousands of pages of documents taken off a computer seized from Raucci’s Niskayuna home. Prosecutors submitted about 90 pages of notes and e-mails as evidence against Raucci.

Some of Raucci’s notes, pointed to possible motives for his crimes. But much of the musings dealt with Raucci’s day-to-day interactions that, if true, raised questions about how the district has been run by him in recent years.

David Ralston Sr., previous CSEA unit head, testified that once Raucci took over the union position in 2001, maintenance employees would work Monday to Friday on campaigns, stuffing envelopes and participating in phone banks. One of the custodians later testified that he was called away during the workday to stuff fliers in Schenectady High School mailboxes the day before the election of who was to be the head of CSEA and who was to serve on the board.                                                                                                   

In a May 2006 e-mail to Michael San Angelo, the assistant superintendent for business, Raucci vehemently denied his workers campaigned on taxpayer time. “At no time did I, nor would I ever ask anyone to operate or perform a request by me that is a violation of district policy, unethical, illegal or inappropriate.”

After hearing Raucii’s notes read to him, Janiszewski said school unions always lobby for items in the budget after their campaigning efforts. He said what would be wrong is if Raucci used workers on school time to campaign and then expected to be paid for it [by the taxpayers]. Janiszewski said he specifically told Raucci not to involve workers during their shifts.

It was alleged that Raucci also found ways to get around union protections to fire employees and then obscure what he had done from the school board with the assistance of other administrators. For example, he got plumber Bob Nunamacher fired under the auspices of layoffs due to overstaffing in March 2006; the layoff letter was written by San Angelo. But the school board was told Nunamacher left for personal reasons, and another plumber was hired three months later.

Raucci also had decided that he wanted Energy Manager Lou Semione’s job, so he worked to undermine the quality of Semione’s work. Prosecutors have alleged Raucci logged onto a computer that controls the buildings’ boilers and turned them on during Columbus Day break in 2003. In another instance, school electrician John LaPointe Jr. testified that Raucci purposely left the football field lights on all day. San Angelo said Semione was fired because energy usage did not decrease enough under his watch. It wasn’t him who had increased the electrical energy usage, it was Raucci who had done it so that he could get Semione fired and then get his job. 

Raucci was given Semione’s job and was paid tens of thousands of dollars a year in overtime. The state Comptroller’s office later ruled the district had no proof Raucci worked $50,836-worth of overtime in 2007-08.

Raucci believed he controlled many employees’ destinies in the district because according to him, he had the ear of all the right people.

Raucci’s victims told the court of how Raucci’s crimes had affected them, the sleepless nights, the fear of what Raucci would do next, the constant threats and worst of all, how it affected their families.

Deborah Gray told of how she watched as her husband, rifle in hand, investigated dead-of-night noises they feared were Raucci. She never knew if he would come back. Laura Balogh spoke of the emotional trauma suffered by her children. Balogh’s daughter, she told the court, didn’t want to go off to college, for fear of leaving her mother alone. There was also the time her daughter woke up screaming, believing her mother had been killed, an incident Balogh could hardly recount before she choked up. Ron Kriss spoke of his elderly parents, who lived with him in Rotterdam as Raucci continued his threats. His family lived in constant fear, he said. His father had passed away in April 2008, less than a year before Raucci was arrested. Raucci’s actions tormented Kriss’ father until the day he died.  “My father died not knowing if my mother would be safe,” an emotional Kriss told the judge. “For me, and in front of this court and God, there is no forgiveness for this.”

Raucci also had his say, but he spoke through his attorney. Defense attorney Ronald De Angelus read into the record a statement from his client in which Raucci maintained his innocence. His statement gave an account markedly different from the one on secretly-recorded tapes made by an old friend-turned-informant.

It was obvious to the judge and everyone else in the court room that this petty tyrant didn’t want to take the stand because if he did, his testimony would be shredded by the prosecutor. No doubt, his lawyer’s presentation of Raucci’s feeble explanation was received by the judge as garbage being thrown in the judge’s face.

The sentencing came two months after a Schenectady County jury found Raucci guilty of 18 of 22 counts lodged against him.

The Schenectady County District Attorney Robert Carney told the judge his calculation of the maximum allowed was more than 118-years-to-life.

In handing down her sentence, Judge Hoye called the evidence against Raucci at the four-week trial “voluminous and convincing and, at times, even overwhelming.”

Prosecutor Carney did not ask for a specific number, but he asked for sentences that reflected the repeated nature of Raucci’s crimes, and sentences that reflected his many victims. Prosecutors in the State of New York can merge several crimes within a single indictment when there is proof that either offense would be "material and admissible" as trial evidence of the other crime or come under similar statutory provisions.

The sentence that Judge Hoye gave in March 2015 was largely one with concurrent sentences, time that will run together. But there were two exceptions. Raucci received 20 years to life for first-degree arson. Two consecutive sentences, for vandalism done to Kriss’ vehicles and attempted coercion of another victim, tacked on three years to the minimum.

The sentence means the 61-year-old Raucci won’t be eligible for parole until February 2032, when he’s 83 years old. He has been incarcerated since his arrest in February 2009 and will receive credit for the six years he had already served while waiting for his trial.

Raucci received his sentence in a courtroom packed with reporters, family and friends, victims and investigators. Some Raucci supporters wrote letters on Raucci’s behalf.  Among those not present were Raucci’s wife and stepdaughter. 

In a much-anticipated decision, the midlevel appeals court upheld his conviction for arson, conspiracy and other crimes in a wave of vandalism.   In a 16-page ruling released, the Appellate Division of state Supreme Court rejected Raucci's arguments regarding his convictions for crimes outside Schenectady County, unfavorable decisions by a county court judge on key defense motions, and an FBI video and the fact that Raucci didn't take the stand at the trial and for this reason he couldn't be cross-examined. The appellate panel also ruled against Raucci's claims that his prison sentence is harsh and excessive and that his lawyer, Ronald DeAngelus, did a poor job of representing him. Raucci’s latter claim is a typical ploy that losers who are truly guilty as charge reach out to a higher court for a change in the verdict. It is like a drowning man reaching out for straw that is just out of reach.

Despite his conviction, Raucci remains totally unrepentant. To this day, he still draws an $80,000 annual pension. He may not live enough to collect it but his wife will get it if Raucci dies in prison. Then again, he may end up with very little. If he is sued by his victims, and they get judgement, against him, they can grab at least 80 % of his pension.

Steve Raucci's story is perfect case study in leadership and power. Raucci drew power from as many sources as he could find and he exploited that power to gain even more power. As time progressed and his power increased, Raucci's actions then became dangerous to his employees and their families.  But like all tyrants, their end is what they all deserve and what this tyrant deserved. 

No comments: