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Alleged arsonist suspended

Alleged arsonist suspended

The Schenectady City School District employee accused of placing an explosive device at a Rotterdam

The Schenectady City School District employee accused of placing an explosive device at a Rotterdam home back in 2001 has been placed on paid administrative leave as some parents raised questions about their children’s safety at school.

Stephen Raucci, 60, who serves as the district’s head of facilities, has been charged with arson for allegedly detonating an explosive device at a Shardon Court residence. The explosion damaged the entryway but no one was injured.

On Friday, Rotterdam police arrested Raucci when he arrived at his office at Mont Pleasant Middle School. Authorities also seized two computers, $120,000 in cash and three handguns from Raucci’s house at 1421 Balltown Road, where he lives with his wife.

Raucci appeared in Town Court Monday evening wearing a prison-issue orange jumpsuit and shackles. Defense Attorney Steven Kouray, who represented Raucci during the short hearing, declined to answer questions about the case.

“No comment,” he said outside Town Court. “I’m just here for the hearing today.”

During the hearing, Raucci stood silently before the judge and made no audible statements in the roughly five-minute proceeding. Afterward, he appeared despondent as he sat in the jury box with other inmates from the jail.

Officials at the Schenectady County Jail on Monday confirmed Raucci was placed on “mental-health suicide watch” upon his incarceration Friday. However, a lieutenant at the jail declined to discuss the reason for the watch.

Meanwhile, a few parents refused to send their children to Mont Pleasant on Monday after police found a small explosive device in Raucci’s office in the school building on Friday after his arrest. Authorities are currently analyzing the device.

Parent Kristen Kwiatkowski pointed out that Raucci had access to all the district’s buildings. “There’s no proof that any of these schools are safe. Obviously, our children’s lives were in danger,” she said.

Superintendent of Schools Eric Ely said the district’s buildings are safe or otherwise authorities would not have let students and workers come to school on Monday. The district was also not asked to evacuate any buildings on Friday, although there were no classes because of winter break. School officials did do a visual inspection of the building.

He also noted that Raucci’s office is located in a remote area of the building that children cannot access.

“There’s no indication that this was targeted at students in any away,” he said. “There’s no indication that students were in danger at any time.”

Ely said attendance was normal at the schools on Monday. The district office had received about 30 phone calls from concerned parents and the district sent out a letter explaining the situation.

The criminal investigation concerning Raucci is ongoing and district officials say they know only what has been reported in the news. “It is, however, my understanding that neither the investigation nor the allegations against Mr. Raucci involve students in any way,” Ely said.

Raucci has worked for the school district for 36 years and makes $79,297 a year in his current position as the district’s head utility worker. He is responsible for maintenance and custodial and cleaning staffs, as well as supervising capital improvement projects throughout the district. Raucci also serves as president of the district’s local CSEA chapter.

Schenectady County clerk records show that Raucci has lived at his Niskayuna address since 1997 and his $94,000 mortgage was paid by 2004.

Ely said there had been rumors swirling around for a long time about Raucci’s activities in the union, but he could only remember one specific allegation in 2004 when an employee came into his office expressing concern about something that happened at his house concerning Raucci. He could not remember the details but said he encouraged this person to go to the police. He has not had a lot of formal complaints, he said, but they would have been turned over to the district’s human resources department for an investigation.

“There’s nothing in [Raucci’s] record to show there’s an allegation of this type,” Ely said.

Ely said nobody has told him they were afraid of Raucci and he has always been professional in his dealings with the superintendent. “He’s never lost his temper with me. Never threatened me.”

As for how long Raucci would be on paid suspension, Ely said there is a process that has to be followed according to contractual guidelines. Raucci’s duties are being temporarily filled by his assistant.

Authorities believe the intended target of the Shardon Court explosion lived in a different house on that street. Schenectady County District Attorney Robert Carney said previously that officials are investigating what was described as an ongoing pattern of intimidation of people who had “crossed” Raucci. He did not know how many incidents are being investigated.

State police formed a task force in 2006 to investigate the 2001 incident and other vandalism complaints. Anyone with information about Raucci is asked to call Rotterdam police at 355-7397, state police at 1-800-GIVE-TIP or [email protected], or Carney at 388-4364.

Raucci is also cited in a pending federal lawsuit against the school district. Former school custodial supervisor Ronald Kriss is seeking $8 million in damages, claiming that Raucci made demeaning comments toward Kriss because he suffers from irritable bowel syndrome and an anxiety disorder and that he inappropriately touched him.

Kriss alleges that Raucci asked whether Kriss needed to “wear a colostomy bag,” and that he should relieve himself in his pants. In addition, he said Raucci played something called the “man game” with various employees by running his hand up the thigh of a male subordinate with the goal of grabbing his crotch, according to Kriss’ court affidavit.

He goes on to allege that Raucci had gathered the maintenance staff to announce that he “had received a phone call and that he had an enemy in his midst.” He indicated that he would fire anyone who talked about what was going on in the facilities office. He also confronted Kriss and asked if he had spoken to Raucci’s predecessor about what was going on in the office.

“When I replied that I had spoken to Lou Semioone, Raucci exploded stating that I was no longer part of the ‘gang,’ ” Kriss wrote.

Kriss also alleges that Raucci had called a meeting of the Operations and Maintenance Department in May 2005 to inform people that the home of former employee Hal Gray had been damaged and graffiti was spray-painted on the house. Kriss said Raucci was involved in a CSEA dispute and Gray’s wife was a member of the union.

“Raucci later that same day cryptically indicated, when confronted, that he was responsible for the vandalism by stating that the ‘war’ would not be over until [the Grays] were no longer breathing,” Kriss charged in court documents.

Kriss sought a transfer to another building to work under a different supervisor. That request was also denied. He then took medical leave at the end of May 2005 because of what he said was a hostile work environment.

Kriss also alleges that his vehicle was vandalized in the parking lot of a place where he worked part-time in July 2005. He said in court documents he lives “in fear of retribution from Raucci on a daily basis.”

The Workers’ Compensation Board granted Kriss’ claim in May 2006 saying that “it is not reasonable for [Raucci] to argue that such conduct is part of a normal work environment.”

Kriss did not return to work and the district terminated him in October 2006.

In his sworn affidavit in the federal case, Raucci denied the allegations of improper conduct. He said he never denied Kriss the use of the bathroom, nor taunted him, touched him inappropriately or screamed in his face.

Raucci said he tried to encourage a relaxed, friendly atmosphere. He also said he protected Kriss’ job from being eliminated during a proposed budget cut in 2004.

He said he tried to help Kriss keep his job with the district because he was having personal issues having to care for his mother and deal with his son. He said it seemed “[Kriss] was having difficulty coping with his supervisory position,” Raucci said.

He also said that Kriss’ lawsuit is the first he heard of allegations that Raucci vandalized his car and said he was not interviewed by the Rotterdam Police Department.

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