Friend-turned-informant provided crucial evidence in Raucci case

It was, by one account, a huge gamble. Steven Raucci had been vandalizing homes and placing bombs on
Keith McKenna, left, and Steven Raucci enter Schenectady County Court in March.
Keith McKenna, left, and Steven Raucci enter Schenectady County Court in March.

It was, by one account, a huge gamble. Steven Raucci had been vandalizing homes and placing bombs on doors and cars for years, getting back at personal enemies and enemies of others, investigators believed.

But, after years of investigation, they had proof tying Raucci directly to the crimes.

Now, one afternoon in early October 2008, behind a Clifton Park home improvement store, the investigators faced the prospect of the biggest possible break in the case.

It was a meeting with Keith McKenna, a recovering heroin addict and disgraced former Glenville police officer.

Investigators believed McKenna was one of Raucci’s closest friends. He was also the target in a drug investigation, and police hoped he would turn informant, getting them the proof they needed to arrest and convict Raucci.

But, in even asking McKenna about Raucci, they ran the risk of the investigation, and their efforts, being exposed.

“It’s one of those things,” said state police Special Investigations Unit detective Peter Minahan, the lead investigator on the Raucci case. “It could have backfired.”

But it was a chance that Minahan was willing to take.

Face to face with McKenna for the first time, Minahan was direct.

“I just asked him straight out if he knew him [Raucci] and how well he knew him,” Minahan said.

The answer was everything Minahan had hoped for.

“His response,” Minahan recalled, “was something along the lines of ‘I know him better than anybody in the world.’ ”

McKenna agreed to wear a wire and record his old friend freely talking about his crimes.

Raucci would even confide that there were only two or three people he would speak so candidly with. McKenna was one of those people.

Victims’ statements

On Tuesday, Raucci, 61, will stand before Judge Polly Hoye to be sentenced for his convictions on 18 separate counts. Before the sentence is issued, some of his many victims are expected to tell the court how their lives have been hurt by Raucci’s crimes.

The case was one that caused a sensation in the region since Raucci’s February 2009 arrest, not only because of the crimes themselves but due to Raucci’s links to the school district.

There was testimony of alleged acts that spanned four counties and nearly two decades. But it was the McKenna recordings that proved essential in tying it all together, down to Raucci’s own philosophy of terrorizing his victims.

The acts included planting and detonating explosive devices, repeatedly vandalizing homes and property of his enemies or perceived enemies, causing thousands of dollars in damage in a span of minutes or seconds.

The Schenectady County Court jury on April 1 convicted Raucci on 18 of 22 counts, including top counts of first-degree arson and three counts of first-degree criminal possession of a weapon. The top counts alone could send Raucci to prison for the rest of his life.

Raucci maintains his innocence and is expected to appeal.

The monthlong trial included as its centerpiece the McKenna tapes — three recordings made inside Raucci’s office.

Prosecutors and investigators say the importance of the McKenna tapes is hard to overstate.

According to one juror, they were what made the difference.

“That was, I believe, the part that pushed a lot of us over,” a 41-year-old juror from Rotterdam said after the verdict. “Hearing his words, listening to what he said to his friend, it showed us that he was there.”

That Minahan even knew that Raucci and McKenna were friends itself could be traced to luck, and the work of another state police investigator, Walter Trojanik of CNET.

It was Trojanik’s independent drug investigation that caught McKenna selling controlled medication, medicine that fights heroin addiction. It was Trojanik who first turned McKenna informant. But because he no longer was buying drugs, he had little value as a drug informant for CNET.

It wasn’t until an offhand comment made to Schenectady County District Attorney Robert Carney that investigators truly realized what they had: a man who had been friends with Raucci since the early 1990s, but also a man who had lost touch and hadn’t spoken with Raucci in years.

McKenna and Raucci parted ways in about 2000. Raucci had lived in Glenville through much of the 1990s, during McKenna’s days as a Glenville Police officer, but the two lost touch when Raucci moved on to a new house in Niskayuna.

Once close friends

But they had been close friends. When McKenna was on duty, he would give Raucci a lift in his patrol car to the Glenville Queen diner, where they would eat breakfast. It was such a regular occurrence they called the diner “the Glenville Steve.”

They had also shared an interest in explosives, McKenna testified at trial. Among the allegations — charges that Raucci was acquitted of — was that Raucci had even placed an explosive device on the Glenville home of a man who had accused Officer McKenna of misconduct.

McKenna testified he didn’t know about the device, but suspected Raucci. McKenna later testified to placing a similar device on a truck in an unrelated incident.

With that background, and the passage of time, McKenna found himself face to face with the investigators, behind the Clifton Park home improvement store.

McKenna appeared receptive to the idea of helping police build their case against Raucci. But a wary Minahan first tested his honesty.

Investigators knew Raucci had a pair of night-vision goggles, goggles they believed McKenna stole from the police department and gave to Raucci years earlier.

If he was going to be honest with investigators, he would have to be honest about the goggles.

Minahan asked.

“He was taken aback, like he lost focus for a couple minutes,” Minahan recalled. “He started pacing around and asked ‘How did you know about that?’ ”

McKenna admitted he’d taken them. He had passed the test. For now, though, they would take it slow. They agreed to meet up again.

That happened sometime soon afterward, this time at a rest stop on the Northway. Unusual meeting places are standard practice when police use informants. Police stations are out, front or back entrances. They can’t risk the informant being seen.

It was at the rest stop, McKenna recalled in testimony, that Minahan suggested rekindling the old friendship and secretly recording Raucci.

Sabotaged effort

Nearly a decade earlier, McKenna had secretly recorded another friend for an undercover police investigation. But McKenna purposely sabotaged the effort and tipped off the suspect.

McKenna later admitted what he did to investigators and eventually to Minahan. Minahan had heard the story, but didn’t know it was McKenna until he came forward with the information.

In deciding what to do next, McKenna thought about all that had happened before.

“When I did my soul searching and I decided to do it, I made a commitment to do it,” McKenna testified. “Once I’m committed, I’m committed.”

McKenna’s work on the case, authorities would later believe, put him in danger. After Raucci’s February 2009 arrest, in a regionwide dance to keep him behind bars pending trial, Raucci ended up in the Saratoga County Jail.

There, Raucci allegedly told a fellow inmate that he knew how he got caught, that an old friend had worn a wire.

“That’s all right,” Raucci allegedly told the inmate, according to prosecution paperwork, “He has no idea who he’s dealing with.”

McKenna entered into the Raucci investigation having battled substance abuse for years. On the job as a police officer, McKenna’s behavior started to change. He had panic attacks, anger issues, depression.

His father died in 2000. Soon after, he started abusing prescription painkillers, McKenna testified. Later he turned to heroin. McKenna entered into a detox program, and retired in early fall 2002.

But he was still fighting addiction in 2008. To help, McKenna was prescribed a drug, taken under the tongue, that blocked certain cravings. While the drug produces no high, it is still classified as a controlled substance.

By summer 2008, a buddy introduced McKenna to a friend, also battling addiction. The friend wanted help but didn’t have the health insurance coverage to pay for the expensive pills.

McKenna agreed to sell him the treatment pills, he testified. He also told him to get into a treatment program.

Sometime later, McKenna returned home. On his door was a business card from state police CNET investigator Walt Trojanik.

McKenna instantly realized he had screwed up. He called the investigator, and they met the next day in Clifton Park.

Trojanik laid it out. The information about the drug sale was in a folder on the table. McKenna didn’t need to look. He signed on as an informant.

“It was my own shot at redemption,” McKenna told the jury at trial.

Informant of note

As a former police officer, McKenna was an informant of note, and soon came to the attention of the district attorney.

And as soon as Carney heard the name, he knew the significance.

Carney’s involvement in the Raucci investigation had begun a year earlier, after meeting with Hal and Deborah Gray, who had been victims of Raucci deeds more than once, investigators believed.

Meeting in the district attorney’s Schenectady office, the Grays told what had happened to them: vandalism to their home and vehicles, threats from Raucci. Raucci had fixated on them since January 2005, they said, blaming them for an anonymous letter that sought to blow the whistle on his activities in the union.

The Grays also told of what happened to others who’d crossed Raucci, and anything else they knew.

It was from that meeting that investigators learned of the goggles, and it was the Grays who told Carney of McKenna’s longtime friendship with Raucci.

A year later, in an off-hand comment regarding McKenna being turned informant, Carney instantly remembered his conversation with the Grays. The former police officer-turned informant was Raucci’s friend.

Carney called Minahan. The investigator took it from there.

First he had to find a way to get McKenna and Raucci back together after years apart. Investigators agreed that McKenna would approach Raucci seeking help finding a job. Raucci, they knew, prided himself on taking care of his friends.

Helping there was another Raucci fixation, Ronald Kriss. Kriss had crossed Raucci, filing successful claims related to workers compensation and sexual harassment.

It was vandalism to Kriss’ vehicles in October 2006 that would eventually help galvanize disparate investigations into one unified effort.

To get McKenna and Raucci together, they sought help from Raucci’s former secretary, Ellen Frederick, who had helped earlier. In August 2008, Frederick found out where Raucci would be eating breakfast so that Minahan could secure a DNA sample, by walking off with a fork Raucci used.

Helping, Frederick said later, did not come without fear. The day Raucci was found guilty, Frederick spoke at the courthouse about those fears, and Raucci’s threats.

She said that when Raucci had her transferred out of his department, “He said ‘If she doesn’t leave quietly, she knows what’s going to happen to her and her house and her family,’ ” Frederick said.

But she felt obligated to help when contacted.

“You have to tell the truth,” she said. “It’s an investigation.”

Breakfast meeting

Investigators put McKenna on notice, and in November, got the call: Raucci was at the Peter Pause Restaurant on Nott Street in Schenectady. McKenna got there, met with Trojanik and went into the restaurant. Raucci had just finished his meal and was leaving when McKenna walked in.

The two friends, who hadn’t seen each other in years, spoke briefly.

Though brief, from Minahan’s perspective, the scenario was perfect. “I don’t think we could have planned it better,” Minahan recalled, “because it wasn’t a hard press. It wasn’t ‘Hey, I was looking for you, I need talk to you.’ It was just like ‘Hey, what’s going on? How are you?’ ”

McKenna asked if he could call about something. Raucci welcomed it. And when McKenna called his old friend, Raucci invited him for breakfast.

McKenna was told not to talk about any crimes, but to tell Raucci he was hurting, that he needed money. But he didn’t want to borrow money. Could Raucci get him a job?

McKenna played his part as instructed. Raucci’s response: Call in a week.

On Dec. 9, knowing Raucci was in his school office, the investigators had McKenna call. Raucci invited him over. McKenna arrived 10 minutes later, recorder tucked in his Yankees jacket. Raucci brought him into his office and shut the door.

It was perfect. The Peter Pause recording, while Raucci talked about little, was almost inaudible due to the background noise. Now the conversation would take place in the quiet of Raucci’s office.

As the conversation began, Minahan, outside in a vehicle, struggled to listen. The recording device had a transmitter, but Raucci’s office was so deep inside the brick Mont Pleasant Middle School that Minahan couldn’t hear.

When McKenna finally emerged, he was nervous. He couldn’t remember everything that was said. But he thought there was something there.

There was.

“You have no idea how happy I was that it was all falling into place,” Minahan recalled of listening to that first tape. “It really was.”

McKenna was prepared. Investigators wanted him to get Raucci to talk about Shardon Court, the 7-year-old bomb blast that Raucci had long been suspected of.

To do that, they wrote fake tickets, signed by the man believed to be the target of the 2001 bombing, Sgt. Robert Denny.

Raucci didn’t remember the name, but was quick to describe the case in detail. And it was Raucci who brought up most everything himself, with little prompting from McKenna.

“Keith did a very good job of not pushing it,” Carney said. “He was nervous. He hadn’t seen him for 10 years. He certainly wasn’t just going to get into this stuff.”

Spoke freely

Raucci talked of Shardon Court. He brought up an earlier, uncharged bombing in Scotia. He was also spoke freely of Kriss and the Grays.

Before that Dec. 9 meeting, Minahan said he still wasn’t completely sure McKenna was on their side.

Then he listened to the conversation. There were opportunities that McKenna could have taken, had he wanted to. But he passed them by.

“After that, I really felt he was on our side,” Minahan said. “I really felt he wasn’t just an informant. I really felt, I think, that part of the old cop in him was coming back.”

Raucci had also made an allusion to a device in his office during that first conversation. But he didn’t show it.

McKenna returned Dec. 16, and again on Feb. 18, 2009.

Raucci talked about almost all the crimes he would be charged with. He talked about his philosophy of terrorism, how there was no fear like someone knowing they could be threatened in their own home.

It was all said with little prompting from McKenna. And it all made the case.

Asked how important McKenna was to the case, Minahan paused. He wasn’t sure how to word it.

“We don’t have the case without him,” Minahan said.

Investigators had plans to keep the recordings going, to get McKenna to record Raucci admitting to still more.

But then Raucci took the step of showing McKenna the explosive device, hidden behind a plant in his office inside a school that would soon again be filled with middle school students.

It was February break at the school. They had to act. The recordings had to end.

Raucci had to be arrested.

They worked quickly to secure search warrants, for Raucci’s office and his home.

Everything was in place the morning of Friday, Feb. 20, 2009. More than a half dozen law enforcement officials, including Minahan and Rotterdam Police Detective Christopher Foster, waited. Foster was the detective who had originally called for Minahan’s help in the case.

Finally, Raucci was spotted returning to the school in his truck.

One state police investigator waited among trucks inside the fenced-in parking area where Raucci would park. Other investigators waited to drive in after Raucci and box him in. Raucci pulled up, parked. The hidden investigator was at his truck door, instructing Raucci to get out. He did.

Minahan and Foster arrived as Raucci was led away from the cab to the back of the truck.

He was quiet, went peacefully; no gun was found.

Minahan watched as the man he and Foster had built a case against for so long was handcuffed and taken into custody.

“He wasn’t surprised,” Minahan recalled of how Raucci appeared to react. “He didn’t have a surprised look.

“It was just a kind of defiant, kind of a ‘you got me’ look.”

Categories: Schenectady County

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