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Day 20: Closing arguments offered in Raucci arson, terror trial

Day 20: Closing arguments offered in Raucci arson, terror trial

In his closing arguments on Monday, Schenectady County District Attorney Robert Carney went through

In his closing arguments on Monday, Schenectady County District Attorney Robert Carney went through accusations, the motives and the incriminating comments Steven Raucci made to others and on a secretly recorded conversation with a police informant.

As part of his arguments, Carney played specific sections of the recordings, letting Raucci, who faces arson and terrorism charges, explain for himself his theory of terrorism and street justice.

The jury, Carney told them, can show Raucci and his victims a different kind of justice.

“By your verdict,” Carney ended his summations, “you can tell this life-long believer in payback that street justice is no substitute for real justice in a court of law.

“Find him guilty.”

Carney has alleged Raucci terrorized his employees and others, in efforts to maintain his status as both union head and school district operations and maintenance supervisor. Carney argued that school district administrators looked the other way and union officials failed to respond to important clues of wrongdoing, partly because Raucci insulated himself from above and bought loyalty through his acts.

Raucci’s defense attorney, meanwhile, tried to keep the jury’s focus on Raucci, and not on the city school district or the CSEA union as he delivered his closing arguments.

Defense lawyer Ronald De Angelus also focused on the alleged misdeeds of the police informant, disgraced ex-Glenville police officer Keith McKenna, and the personal interests of several witnesses as evidenced by their civil lawsuits.

“There may be legitimate gripes against the Schenectady City School District and its leaders, but they don’t belong in this case. There’s nothing in the indictment that points to that type of incident,” De Angelus told the jury.

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 say made him valuable to the school administration for his ability to keep labor peace.

The prosecution charges that 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.

Deliberations begin

Closing arguments took much of the day Monday, with the judge’s instruction on the law following.

That meant deliberations didn’t begin until after 6 p.m. The jurors deliberated for about 90 minutes, sending out two quick questions, asking for the elements of one of the three criminal possession of a weapon counts Raucci faces and questions on jurisdictional issues.

The jurors also asked for an easel before calling it a night at about 8:30 p.m. They are expected back this morning at 9 a.m. Jurors also indicated to the court that if they do not reach a verdict today, they expected to go home by 5 p.m. and return Wednesday.

The court also let the four alternate jurors go; none of them was used during the monthlong trial.

Afterward, one of the alternates, John Diana of Rotterdam, said he didn’t want to speculate on how the 12 jurors will decide the case.

However, from his perspective, the prosecution put on a strong case. In particular, he pointed to the DNA found on the cigarette fuse of the Schodack device in January 2007.

“That pretty much tied it all together,” Diana said, adding that without it the case would have been harder to decide. “But that was the icing on the cake.”

One area that might take more discussion than the other counts, Diana suggested, was the terrorism charge.

Raucci is accused of trying to influence school district policy by placing an explosive device on school Athletic Director Gary DiNola’s car Nov. 30, 2006.

Raucci’s defense has pointed to that count as evidence Raucci was overcharged.

“That’s going to be very hard to decide on,” Diana said.

In the courtroom for Monday’s closing arguments were several of Raucci’s alleged victims, including Hal and Deborah Gray and Laura Balogh.

Spectator space itself was limited. Raucci’s wife and other relatives were in the courtroom, as they have been throughout most of the trial.

A bag of doubts

During his closing statements, De Angelus went down a list of the counts against his client, pointing out what he said were reasonable doubts in each, and that there was no witness who saw Raucci do anything.

There were also others who had motives that Raucci didn’t have, he said. The victims in several of the crimes didn’t even know Raucci, he noted.

To illustrate his points, De Angelus used small, plastic Easter eggs, putting one in a plastic bag for each reasonable doubt he saw in the case. By the end of his summation, De Angelus had the bag filled.

Among things, De Angelus cited six witnesses who each have civil suits pending, including the Grays, Balogh and James Bachus.

De Angelus tried to cite a sexual harassment lawsuit by Barbara Tidball, but Carney objected and Acting County Court Judge Polly Hoye struck the closing statement from the record. De Angelus had been careful during Tidball’s testimony to avoid mention of her suit.

De Angelus also cited defense testimony from CSEA regional president Kathleen Garrison, who was met with a blistering cross-examination from Carney.

De Angelus said he was appalled by the way Garrison was “attacked by Mr. Carney.”

Carney, he argued, attacked Garrison for not doing more to stop Raucci, citing memos that De Angelus said Garrison never received.

De Angelus turned that around on informant McKenna.

“But there was not one person in all of law enforcement that did anything about that one-man crime wave Keith McKenna,” De Angelus said. “Not one man did anything at all.” De Angelus referred to McKenna’s allegedly punching Fred Apfel in 1992 when McKenna was an off-duty police officer. Apfel went on to be one of Raucci’s alleged victims.

De Angelus suggested it was McKenna who bombed Apfel’s house.

De Angelus also referred to McKenna’s leaking of confidential license plate information to two men who later used it to terrorize a family in Kinderhook.

McKenna testified he didn’t know what they were using the information for.

But De Angelus noted that McKenna intentionally botched the investigation into that matter, by alerting the target that McKenna was wired.

“Is it fair for Mr. Carney to attack Kathy Garrison when it appears there’s a different standard for somebody who wears the blue, in this particular case, Keith McKenna?” De Angelus asked.

While De Angelus used plastic Easter eggs to make his points, Carney used an entire multi-media presentation.

Dropping hints

Using a PowerPoint-like display, Carney went through each of the 22 counts Raucci is charged with, grouping them into sections: Those committed to maintain his hold on power in the school district, early crimes and other crimes.

In many of the ones allegedly committed to maintain his power, Carney argued Raucci often telegraphed his moves, dropping hints ahead of time that would make his power and deeds known.

In the January 2007 Schodack attempted bombing, Carney said, Raucci asked others ahead of time about Schodack, where it was. In the earlier attempted bombing on DiNola’s car, Raucci asked another employee for DiNola’s address, Carney said.

Carney argued Raucci could have gotten DiNola’s address somewhere else, somewhere where it wouldn’t be traced back to him.

But the call served as Raucci’s foreshadowing the events to come, to make sure he got credit.

“He wanted people to know and fear him,” Carney said.

The DiNola attack also came the very day after a heated e-mail exchange between Raucci and DiNola over control of athletic facilities.

Raucci needed control to maintain his status as energy manager, his high pay and his usefulness to administrators, Carney argued.

Carney showed a “very tight timeline” of the e-mails, from the day before the device’s discovery on DiNola’s car to Raucci’s call to another employee asking for DiNola’s address.

In on that e-mail exchange the day before the bombing was Superintendent Eric Ely. But Ely did nothing in response, Carney said.

Carney went through a series of e-mails entered into evidence, showing Raucci’s power and influence in the district.

And a lack of oversight from administrators.

There was the photo from the “Godfather” movie that Human Resources Director Michael Stricos gave Raucci as well as multiple e-mails to Stricos recounting the times Raucci had put the administration ahead of the union. Assistant Superintendent Michael San Angelo gave Raucci whatever Raucci asked, Carney said.

Ely told Raucci in e-mails that Raucci was the one he trusted. Ely also forwarded information about the police investigation of Raucci directly to Raucci.

There were also the 2006 election fliers. After a building principal said he had information that Raucci was using employees to do election work on school time, Ely was told.

“Ely was in on that exchange and did nothing about this. Winning elections was important to the board and the administration wasn’t going to do anything about that, even when a principal says it’s not right,” Carney said.

It was Raucci’s control of the union that made him valuable to the administration, Carney noted.

Carney also played portions of a police informant’s recordings of conversations with Raucci in which Raucci boasted that the administration did nothing in response to the DiNola case, except to tell DiNola he couldn’t win.

It was DiNola’s case, allegedly committed to stop him from fighting Raucci’s energy policy, that is the basis of the top-level terrorism charge against Raucci.

The boasting about the administration’s response, Carney said, proves the terrorism charge.

“It was about school policy, it was about control of those policies and keeping it in his control,” Carney said.

With the Grays, Raucci saw a challenge to his union leadership. The anonymous letter from January 2005 threatened that and he blamed the Grays, Carney argued.

By May, Raucci had allegedly vandalized the Grays’ home, writing “Rat” on their home. It was similar, Carney said, to the January 2007 vandalism at Balogh’s home.

Carney compared the spray-painted “Rat” from the Grays’ home to spray-painted “Cheater” on Balogh’s home. The letters “R,” “A,” and “T” were in similar styles made with single motions.

There was a trip Raucci took his employees on to the Grays’ Saratoga County home in the days after the 2005 vandalism, all on school time.

That act was communicated to administration, Carney noted.

“What did the administration do? They slapped him on the wrist,” Carney said, gesturing to indicate a slap.

“He wanted every one of his workers to see what happens to somebody who was a rat,” Carney said.

Carney also cited the case of Bachus, whom Raucci allegedly tried to have suspended for 90 days for challenging Raucci’s union authority. Raucci told Superintendent Eric Ely that Bachus’ life would never be the same, Carney pointed out.

“It makes one wonder what Mr. Bachus had in store for him based on this threat communicated to the superintendent of schools, [Raucci’s] good friend, Eric Ely,” Carney said.

Carney answered charges that such testimony put the focus on the school district, rather than Raucci. It was about the impact Raucci’s positions had on the school district, the students and his workers, the prosecutor said.

“It was really an effect on the entire school district, the kids, the faculty, and most importantly, those people who were forced to work for him under those conditions and the effect on Schenectady by that continued power,” Carney said.

Carney said some of Raucci’s alleged crimes were committed to keep “his tenacious hold” on his power in the school district.

The accusations in Schodack, of spray painting and attempted bombing, were allegedly done to maintain his hold on the union, namely curry favor with the county local president Joanne DeSarbo.

Carney touched on the evidence pointing to Raucci in the Schodack case, largely circumstantial but powerful.

There were the phone calls, including one from DeSarbo to Balogh that evening at an hour when DeSarbo rarely called. DeSarbo asked questions designed to ensure no one was at the Balogh home, he said.

The prosecution contends Raucci attacked Balogh’s home on behalf of DeSarbo, his friend and then the president of the Schenectady County Local of the CSEA. Raucci, then the director of facilities for the city school district, was also president of the CSEA local unit that represented the workers he supervised.

DeSarbo had confided in Raucci her unhappiness over the breakup of her relationship with Balogh, according to the prosecution.

There was the light, normally on, that was out when the vandalism was discovered, Carney noted. The only way to turn it out was to go inside. DeSarbo had a key, according to testimony.

Then there was the DNA, found on the cigarette of the Schodack bomb, which experts matched with Raucci’s.

“Is there a stronger piece of evidence in this case?” Carney asked.

Carney also highlighted parts of the recordings made by a police informant in which Raucci said he wasn’t a smoker, meaning someone didn’t simply take a Raucci cigarette and place it on the device to frame him.

It was the Schodack case, and Raucci’s alliance with DeSarbo, that ensured Raucci remained head of the union and free from complaints, the prosecution contends.

DeSarbo was in the position to stop complaints. The regional union head Garrison testified that she didn’t hear complaints, Carney noted, something he argued was DeSarbo’s doing.

“Joanne DeSarbo was bought and owned by Steve Raucci,” Carney said. “He bought her support and, in doing so, kept control of the union, his source of power, and his money.”

“For Joanne, it was personal,” Carney said. “For Steve Raucci, it was all business.”

Finally, there was the explosive device in Raucci’s office. Carney cited testimony from employees who worked under Raucci about seeing him with similar devices. He also played parts of the recordings in which Raucci admitted to possessing it and admitted it could be used against others.

Carney played one of the video test explosions taped by the FBI, in which a device similar to that allegedly employed by Raucci destroys a cinder block. That device, Carney noted, had 15.9 grams of explosive.

The device in Raucci’s office had 17.2 grams, “and that one was sitting on a file cabinet, in an office in a building full of middle-schoolers.”

Carney ended his closings by replaying Raucci’s philosophy of terrorism from the informant tapes, interspersing quotes from Raucci’s alleged victims on how the attacks had affected them.

They’ve locked their doors, and no longer felt safe in their own homes, they said.

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