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What you need to know for 03/23/2017

Day 19: Raucci’s defense wraps up; closing arguments Monday

Day 19: Raucci’s defense wraps up; closing arguments Monday

The defense concluded its case in the Steven Raucci arson and terrorism case Friday after calling on

The defense concluded its case in the Steven Raucci arson and terrorism case Friday after calling only two witnesses, one of them the CSEA Capital Region president, who was grilled in a blistering cross-examination by District Attorney Robert Carney.

During his cross-examination of CSEA officer Kathleen Garrison, Carney read a series of e-mails and letters between schools facilities director Steven Raucci and school administrators, ones in which Raucci, the union head, boasted of working on behalf of the administration.

Carney also emphasized an anonymous January 2005 letter sent to CSEA leadership trying to blow the whistle on Raucci’s activities, and emphasized a Raucci holiday speech to his union members where he listed all the people he’d gotten rid of.

Carney then had one more question for Garrison.

“I want to ask you,” Carney said, “if you believe that CSEA provided adequate representation to the men and women who worked in the Operation and Maintenance Department of the Schenectady City School District under the direction of Mr. Steven Raucci?”

Garrison, who heads a region with 104 locals and many more smaller units, responded she would have to review the files.

“But, to my knowledge, I did what I could, and we tried to make some changes so that people would be comfortable,” Garrison responded.

Kathleen Garrison cross-examination

To read the court stenographer's transcript of a portion of the testimony, click HERE.

But Carney pressed. That wasn’t his question.

He repeated his original question, then adding, “yes or no?”

“Not from the unit,” Garrison responded. “From the region, I believe they were, based on the information we had.”

Garrison’s testimony touched on some of the main themes of the Raucci criminal case, accusations from the prosecution that Raucci’s union president position was protected from above.

Carney has alleged Raucci allied himself with his Local president, Joanne DeSarbo, to protect him from challenges in the union. It was part of a two-pronged protection plan, Carney has alleged, with school district administrators protecting him from the school perspective.

All the while, the prosecution alleges, Raucci was vandalizing homes and planting bombs against those who crossed him or got in his way.

There has been little in the trial, however, from the CSEA region’s perspective, giving their account of what happened and what they knew.

Denies knowledge

In her testimony Friday, Garrison attempted to make clear that they didn’t know the extent of what was going on.

Garrison was one of two defense witnesses to take the stand, the other was retired district HVAC technician Philip Kaufman. Kaufman testified he assisted Raucci in his energy management duties for the Schenectady City School District, checking buildings and the computer system from home.

Raucci also checked buildings and checked the energy computer system from home, he said. He knows that because Raucci would sometimes call him to ask about something and have Kaufman make the changes.

“He used to contact me and say, ‘Hey, Phil, take a look at this, this doesn’t look right,’ and I would look at home.”

Kaufman also testified that Raucci “enjoyed a joke, he enjoyed a laugh, he was fun to be around in the office.”

On cross-examination by Carney, Kaufman said others also helped with the energy management duties.

Carney also emphasized Raucci’s calls to Kaufman to fix problems with the system, rather than fixing them himself. Raucci’s additional job as the school district’s energy manager helped inflate his pay to more than $100,000 a year and, prosecutors contend, was a motive for some of his alleged criminal activities.

Raucci, 61, a resident of Niskayuna, is standing trial on nearly two dozen counts charging criminal mischief as well as the weightier charges of arson and terrorism.

Raucci served as school district facilities director, and also led the union unit representing the workers he supervised. It was a dual position that prosecutors allege made him valuable to the school administration for his ability to keep labor peace.

The prosecution alleges he is responsible for numerous cases of vandalism and worse — in four cases bombs were placed on homes or cars — in a series of incidents intended to intimidate the victims, whom he perceived as his enemies or enemies of his friends.

In some cases, the prosecution alleges, his actions were designed to maintain and solidify his positions with the school district, which included the additional title of energy manager. His role as energy manager allowed him to earn thousands of dollars in overtime pay every year.

Also Friday, acting Schenectady County Court Judge Polly Hoye ruled on standard defense motions seeking to have the charges against Raucci dismissed.

Defense attorney Ronald De Angelus argued the city school district is not a unit of government. The terrorism charge against Raucci alleges he acted to coerce action by a government. Hoye ruled that the school district is, in fact, a unit of government.

She also ruled on another related issue, that the jury could consider charges on acts alleged to have occurred in other counties. Charges in the case span Schenectady, Saratoga, Rensselaer and Albany counties.

Closing arguments in the trial are expected Monday morning. The jury could get the case by late Monday afternoon.

Defense angle

Garrison was called by the defense in an attempt to show that the union’s investigations into allegations against Raucci did not result in his removal.

De Angelus also attempted to portray alleged Raucci victims Hal and Deborah Gray as union members who often complained about other members. De Angelus asked about complaints they made against DeSarbo, the former Schenectady County CSEA local president, as early as 2000 that Garrison said proved to be unfounded.

Garrison said she met the Grays in person in 2005 after the anonymous letter, and then several times later. Their complaints were about Raucci holding the dual role of supervisor and head of the union. Garrison said the issues were investigated, but no problems were found.

Anonymous letter

This is the anonymous letter was allegedly sent to the CSEA offices, trying to blow the whistle on Raucci. Click HERE.

“His title was head utility worker. It was clearly a title that was eligible for the bargaining unit,” Garrison said of the CSEA investigation’s conclusions.

“The school did give him other duties and compensated him for those duties, but his title never changed.”

De Angelus asked if Raucci was ever removed from the bargaining unit as a result of the complaints his dual role.

Garrison said he was not.

But, in his own questioning of Garrison, Carney suggested the signs were there, but the region chose not to see them.

Carney asked about the alleged lack of grievances coming from the operations and maintenance unit. According to testimony, the grievances went from many under the previous union head to zero under Raucci.

Garrison responded that a lack of grievances is not necessarily a red flag.

“We think in many instances, a positive relationship with an employer works best,” Garrison testified. If an agreement is made and the worker is paid, there’s no reason for a grievance, she added.

Carney asked about others who had concerns about Raucci.

Then there were the e-mails.

Before the last CSEA region election in 2008, which Garrison won, Raucci sent his employees an e-mail on the school system, telling his employees to vote the “correct” way, for Garrison’s slate.

Carney asked if it was appropriate for an employer’s e-mail system to be used for campaign purposes. She said it was not.

Two e-mails from Raucci to school district human resources director Michael Stricos were highlighted.

Email to Stricos

This October 2006 email exchange is between Raucci and Michael Stricos. To read it, click HERE.

In one, from Oct. 30, 2006, Raucci tells Stricos a current agreement was “number 431” of Raucci working “not necessarily in the best interests of the Union.”

In another, from Aug. 13, 2006, Raucci boasts to Stricos about a conversation he allegedly had with labor relations specialist Jim Martin. Raucci quoted Martin in the e-mail as telling Raucci “you not only have the fear of God put in Hal Gray, but at this time, CSEA Headquarters as well. They don’t want any part of you.”

Not scared

Garrison responded to the e-mail’s assessment, “That couldn’t be further from the truth.” She said it was “180 degrees different from reality.”

“Are you scared of Mr. Raucci?” Carney asked.

’Fear of God’ email

To read a copy of the email, click HERE.

“Not even a little bit,” Garrison responded.

In that same e-mail, Raucci also quoted Martin as telling him that Raucci’s “reputation, as the ‘God Father’ seems to succeed [sic] me where ever my name is mentioned.”

Carney asked about the Godfather reference.

That was news to Garrison, she said.

Carney pointed out the anonymous letter from January 2005. “This is exactly how the department is being run,” the letter reads. “Like something out of a gangster movie.”

Garrison said if members have issues, they can call. “We’re not living on Iceland,” she said.

Garrison also noted that the union did react to the January 2005 letter. The letter alleged the labor relations specialist, Michael Campon, had a close relationship with the then-Schenectady school board president Jeff Janiszewski. His wife also worked in the school. Martin was his replacement, someone “who could make themselves available so that if people were really being abused at work that they’d have someone to go to.”

Carney suggested that if employees were being intimidated they wouldn’t come forward.

“I have a hard time believing everyone was intimidated,” Garrison said.

But Garrison agreed, if they didn’t come forward the regional office wouldn’t know.

Carney suggested that CSEA did little to clarify Raucci’s position, that he was supervising 110 employees, with the power to hire and fire, but still leading the union.

Garrison refused to concede that Raucci was the supervisor and that he could hire and fire. She also was sure someone from CSEA talked to the district.

Carney also read a speech Raucci gave at a Dec. 28, 2007 union holiday party. The speech was stored on Raucci’s computer and employees testified that he gave it.

In the speech, Raucci tells his employees that any criticism of him being union head would get back to him, and that would be their problem.

Raucci went on to name several employees that he caused to lose their jobs.

“Does that sound like the speech of a union leader?” Carney asked.

“No, it does not,” Garrison responded.

Then, one final question from Carney.

“If I said to you I thought that the region stuck its head in the sand and ignored what was going on in the Operation and Maintenance Unit, would you agree or disagree with that proposition?”

“I would disagree,” Garrison said, adding that many of the documents Carney used the CSEA wasn’t aware of.

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