Some concluding thoughts on the bizarre matter of Steve Raucci, yesterday convicted of arson and various other felonies committed while an employee of the Schenectady City School District:
I’m sorry he is taking the rap all alone, since the evidence presented at trial clearly showed that he was encouraged in his tyrannical rule over the district’s blue-collar workers by its top administrators, specifically by Superintendent Eric Ely, who called him one of the few people he trusted; by Assistant Superintendent Michael San Angelo, who gave him a free pass to bill for overtime; and by Human Resources Director Michael Stricos, who presented him with a framed photo of Marlon Brando as the Godfather.
After the verdict came down, I asked Schenectady County District Attorney Bob Carney about maybe criminally pursuing those personages, and he replied, “What we have is a picture of administrators just deliberately looking the other way, empowering him [Raucci], when they had lots and lots of warning signs, not really caring about the welfare of the individuals that worked for him, not caring about crimes that they were told about, that they did nothing about. It’s nonfeasance or misefeasance in office, and that’s an administrative matter, not a criminal matter.”
As for Ely’s tipping off Raucci to the state police investigation of him, “Our conclusion was you couldn’t form a criminal charge on that, because he was not privy to police information … It was good evidence of his bias and his protection,” that’s all.
But he added, “I’m not closing the book completely. There may be facts we’re not aware of. What we know at this point, there is not sufficient evidence to bring criminal charges.”
Too bad. That’s a trial I would like to attend.
I think it’s a scandal that Ely has been able to market himself in Billings, Mont., and Erie, Pa., as an accomplished administrator qualified to manage their districts. Can you imagine? With the record of “nonfeasance or misfeasance” that he ran up in Schenectady?
Carney did a formidable job of prosecuting this case, marshalling a vast amount of information scattered over 17 years and four counties and presenting it bit by bit to a jury so the cumulative effect was undeniable, even though most of the individual bits were not conclusive in themselves.
When you finally saw the whole picture, there was no way to believe Raucci was innocent. He planted explosives, he spray-painted houses, he punctured tires in order to strike fear in people who had crossed him or had crossed friends of his.
The only piece of evidence that was definitive all by itself was the DNA lifted from a cigarette butt which was supposed to set off a bomb in Schodack. That was his, no two ways about it. Everything else you had to put together in your mind — his threats before the fact, his boasts after the fact, and the consistent method of operation.
I tried to keep an open mind myself, and for the first week of the trial I was far from convinced beyond a reasonable doubt that Raucci had done the things he was accused of — that’s when background information was being presented — but by the end there was no doubt at all.
As for Carney’s tightly organized three-hour summation to the jury on Monday, backed up by a PowerPoint presentation of photos, documents and voice recordings, he told me that he and his staff worked on it from 10 a.m. Saturday until 2 the next morning, then picked up at 10 a.m. and worked again until 11 p.m., with one staff member putting the finishing touches on the PowerPoint until 2 a.m. again.
For all the persuasiveness of the evidence, I don’t think it was unreasonable for the jury to acquit Raucci of the charge of terrorism. To convict him they needed to find that his vandalism of the car of the school district’s athletic director was done “with intent to influence the policy” of the school district, which was probably a bit of a stretch.
It was certainly done to consolidate his power in the school district, but one juror said later they couldn’t find any policy, written or otherwise, that was being influenced, and I thought that was fair enough.
As a practical matter, it made no difference. Raucci was convicted of enough counts to put him away for the rest of his life anyway, beginning with first-degree arson, good for a minimum of 15 years to life and a maximum of 25 to life. Add that to the three violent felonies he was convicted of, each one carrying a maximum of 25 years, all those sentences potentially to be served consecutively, and you can see that at the age of 61, old Steve has a gloomy future.
If he’s going to be the “man’s man” that he imagines himself to be, it will have to be in the confines of a maximum security prison.
I had been skeptical of some of the jurors based not only on their youthfulness and their slovenly appearance but also on their lack of awareness of the biggest story in Schenectady in many years. What kind of people are these to weigh evidence? I wondered.
Somebody who lives in Schenectady and has never heard of the Steve Raucci case? Someone who can take a month off from his regular life and not be missed? Someone who reads the newspaper only for the classified ads when he’s looking for a job? Someone who doesn’t know enough to pull up his pants?
But in meeting four of them after their labors were done, it was apparent they had risen to the occasion. After some initial rockiness, as they described it, they had settled down to a systematic review of the evidence, count by count, determined not to indulge in speculation or guesswork and also determined to be fair.
I promise never to prejudge people again based on their appearance or their employment — though I will continue to mistrust people who don’t read newspapers. I can’t help that.
Then there is the delicate matter of family history, at least for those of us who remember back to 1985, which is when Steve Raucci’s father, Joe Raucci, made his own lugubrious headlines by firing a shotgun into a car and killing his 6-year-old son, who was Steve’s half brother.
Is there something in the Raucci genes?
Joe, who was 68 at the time, had a wife who was just 38, and apparently she was stepping out on him. Joe caught up with her on Lenox Road near Union Street as her boyfriend was about to get into her car and fired a couple of blasts, which injured her and the boyfriend but left the little boy dead.
Joe went to prison, where he died seven years later.
An adult brother of Steve’s allegedly committed suicide rather than cooperate in an FBI investigation of organized crime.
Finally I note the calls I have gotten from school employees expressing relief. Now they can breathe easy, they say, the bully-boy in their lives being safely locked away.
I hope so, though I note that a year ago, during the campaign for school board seats, when Raucci was already locked up awaiting trial, a rebel candidate who denounced the school administration got her tires punctured in the manner that Raucci preferred — several jabs with a sharp-pointed instrument in the sidewall of each tire, in the middle of the night, in the owner’s driveway.
Raucci himself suggested in secretly tape-recorded conversations that he hadn’t done one of the jobs he was accused of but got someone else to do it for him, so I am not ready to say the world is safe and cozy, though I do believe we have ended one chapter. And Amen to it.