Deborah Gray was on vacation in late 2006 when she checked in by phone with her longtime friend Joanne DeSarbo.
DeSarbo had just gone through a bad breakup with a woman she lived with and she couldn’t get past it.
DeSarbo and Gray had met years earlier through the CSEA local, DeSarbo as local president, Gray as local secretary.
They also knew someone else through the union: Steven Raucci, a union unit president at the city school district.
In that phone call, DeSarbo confided to Gray that she had spoken with Raucci about DeSarbo’s relationship problems. Raucci told DeSarbo he would “take care of things for her, she wouldn’t have to worry,” Gray recounted on the stand Wednesday at Raucci’s arson and terrorism trial in Schenectady County Court.
“I remember saying to her, ‘You will be making a deal with the devil. Stay away from him.’ ” Weeks later, on Jan. 12, 2007, the Schodack home of DeSarbo’s former girlfriend was vandalized, spray-painted with red paint. An explosive device also was left on the home.
It was a device that failed to detonate and has yielded some of the only direct evidence against Raucci, DNA evidence.
More testimony on the Schodack attempted bombing is expected as early as today.
Raucci, 61, the former facilities chief of the Schenectady City School District, is standing trial on a 23-count indictment charging him with numerous incidents of criminal mischief as well as major felonies of arson and terrorism over a period of years.
Some of Raucci’s alleged crimes were aimed at maintaining and solidifying his position in the school district, where he was also president of the union local that represented the employees he supervised, the prosecution has said. It was his dual role as supervisor and union head that made him valuable to administrators, prosecutors have said. Maintaining energy savings was another role that made him valuable, according to prosecutors.
Gray testified Wednesday under questioning by Schenectady County District Attorney Robert Carney. Cross examination by Raucci’s defense attorney, Ronald De Angelus, is expected this morning.
Gray’s husband, Hal Gray, has already testified to similar topics, with De Angelus giving a spirited cross-examination of him. Hal Gray had worked in the same department as Raucci and was the local union vice president.
Prosecutors say the attempted Schodack bombing came two years after Raucci had set his sights on the Grays.
On January 2005, that a now “infamous anonymous letter,” as Carney described it, arrived in the CSEA regional office trying to blow the whistle on Raucci’s dual role as union head and supervisor at the school district, as well as his treatment of employees.
While Deborah Gray didn’t disagree with the sentiments of the letter, she testified she didn’t write it. She told Raucci that, but he didn’t care. Raucci was convinced it was her. He was livid, she said.
She already had expressed her concerns about Raucci before. Gray said she told him before that she didn’t believe Steve Raucci was qualified to head the CSEA local.
“I thought the board was kind of using him,” Gray testified. “He really wasn’t qualified to hold the position.”
On May 1, 2005, the Grays were preparing for a trip to Las Vegas when Hal Gray discovered that their vehicles and house had been damaged by red spray paint.
“I had no idea until I came out of the garage the extent of the damage on our property,” Deborah Gray said. “There was red paint sprayed everywhere.”
The anonymous letter helped precipitate a meeting with the CSEA regional office and regional president, Kathy Garrison, before the vandalism incident. The second shift custodians had made several complaints, Gray said.
Garrison heard the charges, Gray said, but said she couldn’t believe them. Gray, as local secretary, was there. Nothing was done.
It was late May or early June when another CSEA meeting was held, this one to determine whether Raucci should remain in the union. The charges were that he was actually a supervisor, not eligible for the union.
“He was acting in the capacity as a managerial supervisor and union president and these people had no one to turn to,” Gray said.
Carney asked if it was an inherent conflict of interest. “Absolutely,” Gray responded.
Again, nothing was done.
Then, in 2006, came DeSarbo’s descent into apparent depression, Gray testified.
DeSarbo had sold her Rotterdam home and moved to Schodack to live with Laura Balogh, who was also a CSEA employee.
DeSarbo became obsessed with the relationship, Gray recalled, especially as it broke up. Gray described DeSarbo as “medicated,” she would fall asleep at union meetings. When she was awake, she would constantly text message. She lost weight, she wasn’t eating, Gray said.
The house the couple lived in belonged to Balogh. DeSarbo relayed to her friend Gray that if “she couldn’t live in that house, no one was going to live in that house.”
DeSarbo confided to Deborah Gray that she was going to take Raucci up on his offer. Gray said she reminded DeSarbo that Balogh had a son. Gray said DeSarbo didn’t respond.
“It was all about how she was feeling,” Gray said.
Gray said she mentioned her own dealings with Raucci and the alleged outcome. DeSarbo said she wanted Balogh to go through what the Grays went through.
DeSarbo, however, was never specific about what Raucci was going to do.
The friendship ended soon after the Schodack vandalism and attempted bombing.
“I just said ‘How could you do this to that little boy’ ?” Gray said, referring to Balogh’s son. “Her response was ‘I can’t be held responsible for what other people do for me.’ ”
The Grays now soon made efforts to address DeSarbo’s standing with the union, alleging with others that DeSarbo wasn’t completing her duties as local president.
The union office in Scotia wasn’t being used. On Aug. 2, 2007, the local voted to close it over DeSarbo’s objections. Eight days later, the Gray’s car was vandalized again.
On Aug. 13, 2006, Raucci sent out an e-mail that included Assistant Superintendent Michael San Angelo as a hidden recipient, boasting that a CSEA official said Raucci not only had put the “fear of God” in Hal Gray, but CSEA headquarters as well.
August 13, 2006 email
To read a copy of the email, click HERE.
Finally, on Dec. 23, 2008, Deborah Gray filed judicial charges against DeSarbo, alleging wrongdoing and seeking DeSarbo’s removal.
The Gray’s property was vandalized at least four times, the last time on Feb. 16, 2009. Raucci was arrested four days later. Raucci allegedly blamed Deborah Gray for a phone call to his wife, making allegations against Raucci. Gray said she never made the call and had no knowledge of key information used in the call.
“It’s an awful thing,” an emotional Gray told Carney, as he asked how the personal instances of vandalism have affected her. “It’s an awful thing to be attacked when you’re sleeping. No one should ever have to deal with it like we did.”
Gray’s testimony came at the end of a busy day in court, a day that began with testimony from former school district custodial supervisor Ron Kriss, the first man to publicly make allegations against Raucci. He testified he was petrified of Raucci and demoralized by a barrage of verbal attacks.
“The language, the yelling, it was constant,” Kriss said on the stand Wednesday morning.
He has alleged sexual harassment and other abuse at the hands of Raucci. Raucci is accused of vandalizing Kriss’ vehicles as Kriss pressed his case through worker’s compensation and other avenues.
In July 2005, Kriss, then working at Home Depot on Route 7, was scheduled to meet with Michael Stricos, the school district’s head of human resources, regarding the sexual harassment allegations.
Kriss had to cancel, he explained in court. He was working at Home Depot and discovered his truck had been vandalized with his tires punctured and sides gouged.
John LaPointe III, another maintenance department employee, testified Wednesday afternoon that sometime up to a month before Kriss’ car was vandalized he saw Raucci sharpening a screw driver in the school district carpenter shop.
LaPointe III described Raucci as smirking, then shrugging his shoulders when he saw LaPointe looking at him, “What?” Raucci asked.
LaPointe said he never saw Raucci with a screwdriver any other time at work.
Kriss went on to press both cases against the school district. He won his workers compensation case, the judge finding he worked in a hostile work environment.
The district appealed, but lost in September 2006 and appealed again. But the first appeal loss forced the district to write Kriss a check for back pay. The check was dated Sept. 22, 2006 and mailed Sept. 25, 2006.
The night of Sept. 30, 2006, Kriss’ vehicles were damaged while parked in his driveway. Raucci is charged with both acts of vandalism.
The Sept. 30-Oct. 1, 2006 vandalism included six punctured tires — four on Kriss’ car and two on his wife’s car. The damage also included acid sprayed on both vehicles, a chemical that removed paint and damaged plastic.
Kriss’ neighbor, Guiseppi Stone, testified Wednesday afternoon that he spotted a suspicious dark blue pickup truck pass by Kriss’ home about 1 a.m.; it stopped in Kriss’ driveway at one point.
Stone gave a vague description of the driver and the truck. He identified a truck in a photo as the exact truck, though De Angelus suggested Stone couldn’t know it was the exact truck.
The truck was dark blue with a “4x4” written on the back. Stone said he recognized the truck as the same type of truck he’d seen playing Pop Warner football as a youth at Mont Pleasant Middle School.
LaPointe testified earlier that Raucci regularly took a work truck home with him.
Under cross examination, De Angelus asked Kriss about a letter he sent to Raucci’s supervisor, San Angelo, in May 2003 praising Raucci.
De Angelus also asked about Kriss’s federal lawsuit, asking whether any other employee backed up Kriss’ sexual harassment claim. Kriss responded “not at that time.” The lawsuit was filed a year before Raucci’s arrest.
Previous testimony has supported Kriss’ contentions.
De Angelus asked Kriss about two prior incidents of vandalism to his property on school grounds, one in 1999 and one after that. Both involved scratches to Kriss’ vehicles, though of a smaller scale than the later ones.
After the second incident, Kriss testified, he alerted Raucci. Kriss said Raucci responded by looking at him and simply saying that he didn’t approve it.
De Angelus also asked about a May 2005 meeting in which Raucci threatened Kriss’ job, arguing, as De Angelus suggested, that Kriss’ personal and family situation was getting in the way of his work.
De Angelus then suggested Kriss made job-related comments to Raucci. “I was so petrified of him, no I wouldn’t dare say that,” Kriss said. “I had been threatened too many times.”
Under questioning again by Assistant District Attorney Peter Willis, Kriss described that meeting as “probably the most physically draining and demoralizing meeting I was ever involved in.”
“Why?” Willis asked.
“Because I was totally cut down and screamed at in front of two other individuals, which I thought was totally inappropriate,” Kriss said.
Willis also asked about other threats Raucci made around that time. According to Kriss, Raucci screamed at him, warning that Kriss didn’t want to “make this personal, you don’t want to go down that road.” If he did, Raucci told Kriss, “things could happen to your property.”