TRIAL UPDATE: Victim, daughter tell of vandalism, discovery of bomb

Laura Balogh had been in a relationship with then-county CSEA Local president Joanne DeSarbo and all

Laura Balogh, the alleged target of a January 2007 attempted bombing in Schodack is on the witness stand this morning at Steven Raucci’s Schenectady County Court trial on charges of arson and terrorism.

Balogh told of a relationship she had with JoAnne DeSarbo after meeting her through the union. Balogh worked with CSEA on health benefits.

Balogh had just gone through a divorce, and she and DeSarbo struck up a relationshhip that became intimate.

Eventually DeSarbo sold her home in Rotterdam in 2005 and moved into Balogh’s home in Schodack. Balogh advocated against selling the home, but DeSarbo was adamant.

The relationship, however, soon ended with DeSarbo becoming more erratic and controlling, Balogh testified. By September 2006, DeSarbo had moved out.

Balogh testified that DeSarbo, however, constantly text messaged her, and some messages were agressive or threatening, while others expressed love and wishes for the relationship to resume.

Balogh went to the Schodack Police Department with her concerns over the messages.

Then, on the evening of Jan. 12, 2007, Balogh went out with coworkers to a Troy bar to see Balogh’s brother perform. With her was a man that DeSarbo accused of breaking up the relationship.

No sooner had Balogh entered the bar than she got a call from DeSarbo, which she said was unusual for the time.

As part of the call, DeSarbo inquired where Balogh’s children were. The children were away, one to return from a regular ski trip ta 10 p.m.

The call lasted more than 20 minutes, phone records show.

Still at the bar, Balogh got a frantic phone call from her daughter.

“My daughter was absolutly hysterical, crying, screaming that the house had been destroyed,” Balogh said.

She told her daughter to stay there, contact police and her grandmother.

Balogh got home as soon as she could. Looking back, she said she would have reacted differently, an apparent reference to telling her daughter to stay when there was an explosive device there that had not yet been discovered.

“As I drove up … as my headlights hit the garage, I saw big red letters ‘cheater’ and I said to myself ‘Oh, my God, she did it,” Balogh said.

The explosive device wasn’t discovered until the front door was opened. It did not go off. But it did give investigators DNA evidence against Steven Raucci, prosecutors contend.

There were ongoing attacks.

Deborah Gray testified earlier that DeSarbo tried to get Balogh fired, as well as the man DeSarbo accused of breaking up the relationship.

Ultimately, that man was fired, and Balogh was demoted.

Balogh got an insurance payment for the damage, but because she had been demoted, she had to use the money to help pay her mortgage. She ultimately had volunteers help clean the damage.

After a short break, defense attorney Ronald De Angelus opened his cross examination, noting that Balogh appeared uncomfortable.

She had appeared to be crying during the break. District Attorney Robert Carney, who is prosecuting Raucci, had tried to ask how the events have affected her life. Acting County Court Judge Polly A. Hoye disallowed the question.

Balogh told De Angelus she wasn’t uncomfortable, she was just upset that she wasn’t allowed to say how the incident has affected her life.

De Angelus went on to ask about a previously unreported lawsuit Balogh has against CSEA, naming DeSarbo and Raucci as aiders and or abettors.

Balogh said the suit was a sexual harassment suit against CSEA based on the damage to her home, the threats and “blackmail that was used with the CSEA to destroy my life both professionally and personally.”

DeSarbo allegedly continued her attacks on Balogh, using her influence at CSEA as the Schenectady County local president to get Balogh demoted and the man she blamed for breaking up their relationship fired.

Balogh testified that DeSarbo had considerable influence in CSEA, controlling blocs of votes. Because of that, CSEA retaliated against Balogh, she said.

De Angelus went on to ask whether she knew Raucci, whether she saw him commiit any of the acts charged. She said she didn’t.

But she also added, “His DNA was at my home, sir, I’m sorry.” Hoye told the jury to disregard the answer.

Hoye also refused to allow questions from De Angelus probing Balogh’s sexuality.

“I don’t think that’s relevent, ask a different question,” Hoye said forcefully after several attempts by De Angelus at phrasing his questions differently.

About the explosive device, Balogh described it as bigger than an M-80. She also said her mother got the investigating police officer a plastic baggie to pick up the device and place it in an evidence bag.

Using tissues, she demonstrated how it was retrieved.

Jaimie Balogh, Laura Balogh’s daughter, followed her mother on the witness stand. It was Jaimie Balogh who discovered the vandalism at their home and, later, with a police officer, the bomb.

She testified that a light that is normally on outside the house was out. Her mother testified earlier that there is a switch inside the home that can turn off the light.

She said after seeing the vandalism on the garage door, she went inside because her cellphone was dead. She called her mom. When police came, she opened the front door, and that’s when the officer noticed the device.

Jaimie Balogh testified that the device remained on the door until the officer removed it.

Kevin Balogh, Laura Balogh’s 14-year-old son, testified next, identifying photos taken of the property.

Schodack Police Officer Michael Miller testified that he arrived on the scene and met an upset Jaimie Balogh. They began looking at the extent of the damage. That’s when Miller said he spotted the explosive device.

The device was wedged in the handle of the front door. A cigarette was attached to the wick. There was ash on the cigarette, but it had gone out.

It had begun to rain and Miiller decided that it was safe to move the device. He got his leather gloves, put them on and removed the device. He took the cigarette, secured that in an envelope. He put the device in a separate envelope.

Miller said he had not received training in explosives, but said he believed it was safe because the wick and cigarette were not burning.

Both Laura Balogh and her daugghter Jaimie gave slightly different accounts of the discovery of the device and its recovery, something defense attorney De Angelus tried to emphasize through his questions.

The cigarette has emerged as one of the few pieces of direct evidence against Raucci. Prosecutors have said Raucci’s DNA was found on the cigarette.

On Wednesday, Deborah Gray testified she was on vacation in late 2006 when she checked in by phone with her longtime friend DeSarbo.

DeSarbo couldn’t get past her breakup with Balogh, Gray said.

DeSarbo and Gray had met years earlier through the CSEA local, DeSarbo as local president, Gray as secretary.

They also knew someone else through the union: Raucci, a union unit president at the city school district.

In that phone call, DeSarbo confided to Gray that she had spoken with Raucci about DeSarbo’s relationship problems. Raucci told DeSarbo he would “take care of things for her, she wouldn’t have to worry,” Gray recounted on the stand Wednesday.

“I remember saying to her, ‘You will be making a deal with the devil. Stay away from him.’?”

Raucci, 61, the former facilities chief of the Schenectady City School District, is standing trial on a 23-count indictment charging him with numerous incidents of criminal mischief as well as major felonies of arson and terrorism over a period of years.

Some of Raucci’s alleged crimes were aimed at maintaining and solidifying his position in the school district, where he was also president of the union local that represented the employees he supervised, the prosecution has said. It was his dual role as supervisor and union head that made him valuable to administrators, prosecutors have said. Maintaining energy savings was another role that made him valuable, according to prosecutors.

Cross examination of Gray by the defense took place this morning.

De Angelus this morning questioned Gray about the friendly relationship the Grays initially had with Raucci including dinners out. Gray acknowledged she asked Raucci for help getting her son, Ryan Rakoske, a job with the district, and Raucci obliged.

De Angelus also employed a line of questioning he had used with Gray’s husband Hal Gray, trying to portray the couple as suspects in the August 2001 Rotterdam bombing for which Raucci stands charged.

Raucci has alleged that he enquired about the target’s address because someone else asked him. De Angelus has suggested it was the Grays who asked Raucci. But prosecutors have noted that Deborah Gray, as secrertary of the local, had access to the target’s address and didn’t need to ask anyone for it.

In regards to Raucci becoming head utilty worker in 2003, Gray said she soon learned that Raucci began acting as a supervisor. Gray also co-chaired the county union’s grievance committee.

On January 2005, the “infamous anonymous letter,” as Carney described it, arrived in the CSEA regional office trying to blow the whistle on Raucci’s dual role as union head and supervisor at the school district, as well as his treatment of employees.

While Deborah Gray didn’t disagree with the sentiments of the letter, she testified she didn’t write it. She told Raucci that, but he didn’t care.

Raucci was convinced it was she. He was livid, she said.

She already had expressed her concerns about Raucci before. Gray said she told him before that she didn’t believe Steve Raucci was qualified to head the CSEA local.

De Angelus also asked about other attempts to get Raucci removed from the union, including a summer 2008 meeting with statewide president Daniel Donahue.

But De Angelus noted that Raucci continued in his role as union unit president.

Under questioning again by Carney, Gray said they had been pressing their issues with the union, to get Raucci removed and DeSarbo reprimanded, for sometime.

They finally asked for a meeting with Donahue out of “total desperation” after nothing had been done.

“We tried every avenue possible to bring some kind of attention to get someone to care about what was happening, not just to us, but to the employees of the school district,” Gray said.

They knew that Raucci’s power came from his dual role as supervisor and union head. If he was removed as union president, the employees would be helped.

They met with Donahue shortly after the latest act of vandalism against one of their vehicles, Hal Gray’s truck.

They had known Donahue for several years.

“We trusted him to some degree, we had no one else to go to in the union,” she said. Whenever they talked to others, it would get back to Raucci and DeSarbo and more vandalism was done.

Carney asked if any action came from the meeting.

“There were a lot of promises, but nothing ever came to pass,” she said.

The local union officers weren’t removed until Feb. 23, 2009, three days after Raucci’s arrest.

Categories: Schenectady County

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