JUST HOW UNAWARE WERE DISTRICT'S ADMINISTRATORS?

DA says plenty of evidence about Raucci's conduct

LAUREN STANFORTH STAFF WRITER
Section: Main,  Page: A1

Date: Saturday, April 17, 2010

SCHENECTADY -- Superintendent Eric Ely put out a statement Friday saying the internal report the school district finally released about now convicted arsonist Steven Raucci proves administrators were unaware of Raucci's intimidation and mistreatment of his co-workers.


But evidence presented at Raucci's trial last month in Schenectady County Court painted an opposite picture -- from assistant superintendents giving Raucci a framed photo of Marlon Brando in "The Godfather" to Ely knowing there was a criminal probe over Raucci's conduct.


The report, which the district released Friday morning after fighting to keep it secret for almost a year, places no blame on district administrators, saying employees did not report Raucci's abuse for fear of retaliation by him.


While one assistant superintendent retired and another's contract ends in June, no one was ever disciplined after the report was completed -- even though it found that Raucci threatened employees by saying, "I'd kill you, your wife and kids," if he was ever crossed.


"If they really didn't know about it I suppose it's hard to blame them," said Schenectady County District Attorney Robert Carney reacting to the report. "But there's plenty of evidence out there if someone wanted to really know what happened."


Rachel Rissetto is a North Country BOCES human resources director who was hired in April 2009 to investigate and report on allegations of Raucci's workplace misconduct. She interviewed 35 employees, including Ely, and past and present school board members.


She also was provided access to more than 10,000 district e-mails. Last year, Rissetto worked on the same panel for the state Association of Management Advocates for School Labor Affairs as Schenectady school attorney Shari Greenleaf.


Rissetto has not returned repeated calls for comment over the last year about her report.


School board members first saw the completed report in June 2009 but they were never given a copy of the document.


While Rissetto says the people she interviewed were "very willing to discuss their personal observations," she found that administrators did not get the same cooperation.


"No one ... was able to provide documentation or direct knowledge of how Central Administration would have known of Mr. Raucci's misconduct; if employees, through their own admission, failed to report it."


While the details of interviews with operations and maintenance employees supervised by Raucci are in the report, there is no mention of what if anything Rissetto gleaned from talking with Ely or other administrators.


Testimony presented at Raucci's month-long trial for vandalizing property and leaving explosive devices at the homes of his enemies illustrated that Ely and other administrators allegedly knew what kind of boss Raucci was -- and what lengths he would go to silence those who worked against him. On April 1, Raucci was convicted on 18 of 22 criminal counts, including first-degree arson, and is facing 25 years to life in prison.


Some of the most detailed evidence came from testimony by Gary DiNola, the athletics director who found an explosive device on his car windshield in Ballston Lake in 2006. The device was placed just hours after DiNola got into a heated e-mail argument with Raucci over giving locker room access to a track coach. DiNola reached out to Ely over e-mail to assist in getting the keys. Ely told DiNola, "it will be a long cold winter and harsh spring unless this gets resolved. You know the chain of command. Work through Steve."


DiNola came into a morning administrative meeting the following day, noticeably rattled, and told Ely about what happened. DiNola said Ely expressed concern for DiNola's wife and Ely related a story about dealing himself with vandalism in one of his former districts. But DiNola said Ely never said anything to him about it again.


Two years later, Ely was alerted to the criminal investigation facing Raucci and e-mailed Raucci saying, "we need to talk about taking a head-on approach."


Assistant Superintendent for Business Michael San Angelo, who was Raucci's boss, admitted on the stand he was aware Raucci took maintenance workers over to fellow employee Hal Gray's house, all of whom were driving school vehicles, to see vandalism that Raucci himself perpetrated in 2005. Again, Raucci apparently suffered no punishment for such actions.


Retired Lincoln Avenue Elementary School principal Alan Zemser testified he met with San Angelo in 2003 after Raucci pulled a custodian from Zemser's school to campaign for a school board election. Zemser testified that Raucci told San Angelo he'd have grievances all over his head if he sided with the principal. Raucci was allowed to stay CSEA head of operations and maintenance workers even after his promotion to facilities supervisor in 2003.


Even though Rissetto found there were no grievances filed during Raucci's tenure as union boss from 2001 to his arrest in February 2009, and that he assisted in campaigning for school board elections, District Attorney Carney said the report fails to link the perks Raucci gave administrators with why his behavior was allowed to continue.


"It ignores how the administration was benefiting from Raucci's rule," Carney said.


E-mails released at the trial illustrate Ely's cordial working relationship with Raucci. One written by Ely to Raucci four days before Raucci's arrest, stated, "There aren't many I trust. You are one. Thank you."


No e-mails or interview summaries were included in the report the district released Friday morning on the school Web site -- though they were a part of the original report board members received last year.


Board President Maxine Brisport would answer no questions about the report and the further information found out at trial. The Board of Education said in a statement Friday that it released the report because Raucci's criminal trial is over and it is an effort to be more "transparent."


Lauren Stanforth can be reached at 454-5697 or lstanforth@timesunion.com.