SCHENECTADY — A federal judge on Thursday rejected a last-ditch effort to overturn multiple 2010 convictions against former city school facilities director Steven Raucci.
Senior U.S. District Judge James K. Singleton Jr. issued his ruling more than two years after it was filed, and more than eight years after a Schenectady County jury convicted Raucci of arson and other counts.
Raucci, now 69, turned to the federal courts to overturn convictions that resulted from a long and complex March 2010 trial, after his state appeals proved fruitless. The proceedings delved into the inner workings of the Schenectady City School District and saw Raucci convicted of planting explosive devices and vandalizing property to intimidate those he perceived to be enemies and enemies of friends.
He is serving a sentence of 23 years to life in state prison.
The federal court judge went through the arguments by Raucci’s attorney, Alan Pierce, and rejected each.
The judge found the state appeals courts properly considered evidence issues, and that Raucci’s trial attorney properly represented him.
In one instance, Raucci’s attorney argued the state arson statute was vague enough to be void.
Raucci’s was found guilty of arson for placing an explosive device at an occupied Rotterdam home’s door in 2001. The device exploded. The judge noted that the trial evidence established Raucci placed the object, which contained flash powder, before igniting it.
“Applying the everyday common sense meaning of the term ‘explosive,’ it is clear that the arson statute, as written, gave Raucci adequate notice that the item he placed on the door constituted an explosive device,” the judge wrote.
Raucci’s attorney could not be reached for comment Thursday. He filed a request last month for the judge to consider the case at his earliest availability, due to Raucci’s advancing age and failing health. Raucci was recently diagnosed with prostate cancer, Pierce wrote in the May filing.
The state Attorney General’s Office defended the conviction. Among the arguments they countered was one concerning the ineffectiveness of his attorney. Raucci’s trial attorney was quite effective, the Attorney General’s Office wrote. He highlighted weaknesses in the prosecution’s case and won acquittal on one of the top counts, they noted.
The Schenectady County District Attorney’s Office prosecuted Raucci, and District Attorney Robert Carney handled the case himself.
Carney on Thursday said the judge’s ruling is the result he expected.
“It doesn’t surprise me, because it’s consistent with what all the other appellate courts have said,” Carney said.
In all, Raucci was convicted on 18 of 21 counts. Police arrested him in February 2009.
Raucci served as facilities manager for the Schenectady City School District and also led the union chapter that represented the workers he supervised. The dual position, prosecutors said, made him valuable to the school administration for his ability to keep labor peace.
The case has also garnered attention beyond Schenectady. “This American Life” devoted an hour-long radio show to it and a Hollywood producer said last year he was developing a TV show based on it.
It appears Raucci could ask the next-highest federal court to examine the case, but the judge who issued Thursday’s ruling refused to issue a certain certificate to make that appeal process easier.
Raucci continues to serve his time in the maximum security Clinton Correctional Facility in Dannemora. He won’t be eligible for parole until 2032.