MONTGOMERY COUNTY — Newly sworn-in Montgomery County Sheriff Jeff Smith on Thursday provided updates on three sheriff’s deputies who were charged with crimes in 2018.
Smith said it had taken him several days to get up to speed on details of the various disciplinary proceedings and staff changes among sheriff’s office personnel, actions initiated during the final months of former Sheriff Mike Amato’s tenure.
Amato served as sheriff for 21 years but did not run for re-election in November.
“I wasn’t allowed in the building until Tuesday, Jan. 1,” Smith said, referring to his swearing-in date. “I have not been a part of any of other transition like this, but I would guess that’s atypical.”
Smith outlined on Thursday the status of current and former sheriff’s deputies Roberto Gracia, 46, and Theresa Pingitore, 48, both of Amsterdam, and Raymond Waldynski, 42, of Johnstown.
In August, Gracia and Pingitore were charged after Gracia, while driving his personal vehicle, struck Julian Louscher, 18, and failed to report the car-pedestrian crash. Gracia is alleged to have told Pingitore about the accident, but she also failed to report the accident to the Sheriff’s Department.
Gracia was charged with felony evidence tampering and misdemeanor charges of failure to report a personal injury accident and professional misconduct. Pingitore was charged with professional misconduct, a misdemeanor.
Smith said Gracia is no longer a Montgomery County sheriff’s deputy, and Pingitore has “settled her departmental discipline” and has returned to work at the Sheriff’s Department.
“I can’t comment on her legal charges; I have no knowledge of that,” Smith said.
Schenectady County Assistant District Attorney Eamonn Neary, who was named special prosecutor for the case, said the charges against Gracia were filed in two different courts. He said the felony evidence tampering charge was filed in Amsterdam City Court and has been dismissed in exchange for a plea deal in which Gracia agreed to resign from his job and plead guilty to the two misdemeanor charges. That case was settled on Dec. 13 in Amsterdam Town Court.
Neary said any New York state pension credit accrued by Gracia, who was a 15-year veteran of the Sheriff’s Department, is not affected by the conviction. He said Gracia has been issued a five-year “full stay away” order of protection requiring he stay away from Louscher.
Neary also said the plea agreement does not prevent Gracia from future employment with another police agency, but he thinks it unlikely he ever would be hired for such a position.
“Those two charges, official misconduct and leaving the scene of a personal injury accident, will be a part of his permanent criminal record,” Neary said. “If he ever does try again to become a law enforcement officer, he would have to report that and notify [the hiring department] of the conviction and the nature of that conviction.”
Pingitore is scheduled to appear in Amsterdam Town Court on Jan. 10.
Waldynski was charged on Nov. 16 with second-degree trespassing for allegedly going into his estranged wife’s home in Broadalbin while wearing his Montgomery County sheriff’s uniform and having driven his squad car across county lines to do so, according to court documents. He has been placed on paid suspension, pending the disposition of his legal charge, Smith said.
The Sheriff’s Department has a total roster of 120 to 130 people and has four vacancies on its road patrol — one created by Gracia’s resignation and another being a resource officer post that was created to help school districts, Smith said.
He said two officers had begun the process of being hired prior to his taking office, and he plans to put two more through the interview process over the next several months. Smith said he has not determined whether Kevin Collins, a former sheriff’s deputy and former president of the Police Bureau Association, will ever be re-hired at the Sheriff’s Department. Collins filed a $3 million federal lawsuit against Montgomery County in September, alleging he was wrongly terminated in June.