Steven Raucci struck his victims’ property under the cover of night, attacking their homes with screwdrivers, gallons of paint and explosives, Schenectady County District Attorney Robert Carney told a jury Friday.
“He caused thousands of dollars in damage,” Carney said in his opening statements in the terrorism and arson trial, “but the injuries inflicted were far greater. He stole their peace of mind, their comfort, their security.”
Carney opened the long-awaited case against Raucci, the former city schools facilities director, by discussing his alleged beginnings with bombs in 1993, his ties to the school district, his rise to and retention of power within the district and the union.
Among those methods was ingratiating himself with the school district administration, passing them information, eliminating grievances and requiring workers under him to work on school board campaigns — all while maintaining his title as union head and making in excess of $100,000 a year.
The result was that more than 100 workers under Raucci were “abandoned to the whims of a tyrannical boss,” Carney said.
“These terroristic crimes were committed to intimidate those below him and others to make sure none of them challenged his authority or undermined his position of power or jeopardized his income that he obtained because of his status,” Carney told the jury.
In his own opening statement, defense attorney Ronald De Angelus argued there was not one eyewitness to the events.
But, De Angelus said, there will be many witnesses with a vested interested in the outcome of the case.
“You’ll see that the real facts here are going to be filled with people who are jealous, they’re greedy, they deal in drugs, they’re outright crooks, they’re manipulative, they’re deceivers and otherwise desperate people trying to hold onto their position,” De Angelus said.
Several of those expected to testify have sued or are trying to sue the district.
“Remember,” De Angelus added, “the school district is not on trial here, Steve Raucci is on trial.”
Raucci, 61, of Niskayuna, is on trial on 26 criminal counts ranging from criminal mischief to major felonies of arson and terrorism. He has been held in the Schenectady County jail, denied bail, since his arrest more than one year ago.
Raucci not only served as facilities director at the Schenectady City School District, he also served as president of the CSEA union local.
He is charged with four separate bombings or attempted bombings, as well as numerous acts of vandalism and intimidation.
Present in the courtroom Friday were as many as 15 members of local media outlets and eight friends or family of Raucci. There are also several local attorneys observing.
Carney began his opening statement with a carefully worded assessment, one that he revisited in an emphatic ending to his hour-long-plus opening.
There was no fear like knowing someone could be threatened in their own home, he said. It was an “icky, awful” feeling, Carney said.
But those words weren’t his own, Carney revealed to the jury in concluding his remarks. Those were Raucci’s words, his “philosophy of terrorism,” words the jury would hear, recorded from a conversation with a wire-wearing informant, Carney said.
Throughout his lengthy opening, Carney drew connections between events that spanned 15 years.
Raucci is accused of planting four explosive devices, two of them failing to detonate because Raucci didn’t know the cigarettes he used as fuses now automatically extinguish themselves.
Three of the four bombings, Carney told the jury, were Raucci taking it upon himself to settle scores for others.
In 1993, Raucci allegedly bombed the home of Frederick Apfel in retaliation for a complaint Apfel had filed against former Glenville police officer Keith McKenna. It was the same Keith McKenna who wore the wire, secretly recording conversations with Raucci that have become a cornerstone to the current case.
In 2001, Raucci learned of a dispute Rotterdam police dispatcher Cindy Chevalier was having with Rotterdam Police Sgt. Robert Denny. Raucci, who barely knew Chevalier, made inquiries about Denny’s address, placing a bomb at what he believed to be Denny’s door, police allege.
But Raucci had calculated wrong, instead bombing the home of Steve and Colleen Capitummino and their two children, police say.
The family had just moved in and Steve Capitummino was asleep on the couch, 15 feet from the front door when the blast went off. They thought it was kids. By morning, they found a softball-sized depression in the front door.
A note left at the scene led police to believe it was Denny who was the target. Raucci was a suspect, but the case remained unsolved.
It was around that time that Raucci’s rise in the school district began, Carney said. Borrowing a phrase from “Alice in Wonderland,” Raucci’s story became “curiouser and curiouser,” Carney said.
In 2001, Raucci was elected union head for his unit in a close election. He then allegedly set out to undermine and ultimately force out the civil service-protected building and grounds supervisor Lou Semione.
As union head, Raucci became a source of information to the school administration and school board. He also brought labor peace and ordered his workers to help board members get elected.
Raucci soon convinced assistant superintendent Michael San Angelo and then-Superintendent John Falco to make him head of building and grounds in January 2003.
As facilities director he could remain a union head while being the defacto facilities boss.
With Semione gone, Raucci took on the added responsibility of energy manager, gaining overtime and power.
Raucci, Carney said, ultimately became a “feudal lord in the Schenectady City School District.”
Raucci regularly had breakfast with then-board president Jeff Janiszewski, and Human Resources Director Michael Stricos gave Raucci a picture of Marlon Brando from the movie “The Godfather” to hang in his office.
When complaints did come, Carney said, “the administration always backed him every step of the way.”
With Raucci in control, he kept a tight grip on energy use, keeping rooms cold, refusing to turn on athletic field lighting and even cutting cords to equipment.
It was a dispute over athletic field use that led to the November 2006 attempted bombing of then-athletic director Gary DiNola’s car, Carney said.
Carney has said in court papers that school district officials, including Superintendent of Schools Eric Ely, were aware of allegations of Raucci’s activities and did nothing about them.
Raucci, Carney said, was not shy about insinuating that bad things happened to those who went against him.
“He wanted their pain, their trauma, their fear, their desecrated property, to stand as a clear example to others of the risk of crossing him,” Carney said. “In his calculation, he viewed that as winning, and it was his obsession.”
The main motive for the crimes, Carney said, was Raucci’s “lust for power and greed.”
Then there was Raucci’s union connections. With the administration fully backing him, the only challenge to Raucci’s power was with the CSEA. If he lost his union head position, he lost his value to the administration.
That’s where Joanne DeSarbo came in, Carney said. She was the head of the county union. He viewed DeSarbo as being able to insulate him from above.
He allegedly curried favor with her by retaliating against Laura Balogh, whom DeSarbo had just had a relationship with. Balogh ended the relationship and DeSarbo was upset.
DeSarbo called Balogh to ensure no one was home, then Raucci planted the bomb and spray painted “cheater” on the home, Carney said. Raucci’s DNA was found on the cigarette part of the device, he said.
Raucci, Carney said, “now owned” DeSarbo. Any complaints to the union got directly back to Raucci.
In his opening statement, De Angelus stressed to the jury that Raucci cannot be convicted on a prosecutor’s opening statement and that his client has pleaded innocent.
No one was ever injured, he said, and there is no dynamite in the case, “firecrackers, but no dynamite.” Carney said in his opening that the explosive devices were improvised and not commercially available.
De Angelus also railed against the informant, suggesting McKenna did some of the crimes and set up Raucci. He questioned the DNA evidence and how it was handled and produced.
And De Angelus attacked the witnesses who are suing or have tried to sue the district, saying they had many other enemies who would have been happy to vandalize the homes.
“They’re seeking to grab piles of money on the basis of your verdict,” De Angelus said. “Their real interest is to come in here and manipulate the facts the way they want, not the way they truly are.”
The district, Carney said, facilitated Raucci by manipulating the civil service records to keep him in his position.
In the first testimony of the trial Friday afternoon, Kathleen Heap, now retired from the Schenectady County Civil Service Commission, testified about Raucci’s civil service file, showing changes in jobs over the years, including a jump in pay from $41,000 to $67,000 from 2002 to 2003 when he attained the title head utility worker.
Heap also testified that there were no updates in Raucci’s position with civil service from 2003 on, despite jumps in gross pay to as high as $103,000 in 2004 and $129,000 in 2008. Those updates were required.
De Angelus asked Heap if it was an employee’s responsibility to report those changes. She said it wasn’t.
Heap also testified that the Civil Service Commission has a policy not to investigate anonymous complaints. An anonymous letter was sent in January 2005 to the CSEA trying to blow the whistle on Raucci’s alleged activities.
The next witness was Michele Tabbano, who works with job training with the county and was the chair of the CSEA grievance committee in the county. She testified she worked to get Raucci out as union head but was ultimately unsuccessful.
She began receiving complaints in early 2005 about Raucci and his position as both union head and supervisor. She filed a grievance on behalf of Ryan Rakoske, who worked under Raucci and had been reassigned, allegedly over a Raucci dispute with his mother.
Tabbano said she kept getting calls, most anonymous, claiming issues and inappropriate behavior on behalf of Raucci. She believed Raucci was actually management and not eligible for the union. She took action by trying to get Raucci removed, but the union officials said there wasn’t enough evidence to remove Raucci.
Looking back, Tabbano said, “I feel like we dropped the ball and we let it go away when there was more that we could have done.”