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Motions reveal development of pending case against Raucci

Sunday, February 28, 2010
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— One piece of evidence, an alleged illegally manufactured explosive device, was found behind an office potted plant, inside a building where hundreds of middle school students attended classes.

Another was found soaked into a cigarette butt and matched with evidence from a surreptitiously seized fork.

Still another is an alleged recording of Steven Raucci’s own words, telling an informant wearing a wire about a bombing — that he was the prime suspect and that he “did it for a friend,” even showing the informant his personal copy of a more than seven-year-old newspaper article on the bombing tucked in a briefcase.

Each piece of evidence has come to light over the past 12 months through pretrial motions looking to suppress evidence against Raucci or free him on bail while awaiting his trial, which is scheduled to begin Monday in Schenectady County Court.

Each piece of evidence has served to support the prosecution’s depiction of a man who thrived on power and retaliated against anyone who challenged that power.

That power manifested itself, according to the people’s case against Steven Raucci, in vandalism and bombings, carried out in the dead of night, against those who got in his way — or even in someone else’s way.

Beginning this week, Schenectady County District Attorney Robert Carney will have the opportunity to present that evidence to a jury of 12 Schenectady County residents, attempting to convince them that Raucci is guilty of the 26 counts lodged against him, including terrorism and arson.

Defending Raucci will be veteran attorney Ronald De Angelus.

De Angelus has argued that many of the expected witnesses against Raucci have a monetary interest in seeing him convicted. At least 11 people, including several at the center of some of the charges, have filed lawsuits or tried to file lawsuits against Raucci and the city school district where he was employed as facilities director until shortly after his arrest.

One couple, Harold and Deborah Gray, formally filed a lawsuit against the school district just two weeks ago.

“I don’t believe the DA will prove each and every element of every count beyond a reasonable doubt,” De Angelus said in a brief interview last week.

De Angelus declined to respond to specific alleged pieces of evidence, leaving that for the trial.

Who knew?

The case has been closely watched since Raucci was led away from his Mont Pleasant Middle School offices by city police officers on Feb. 20, 2009.

The past year has been rife with revelations and accusations about who knew of Raucci’s alleged activities and what, if anything, was done about it.

The trial itself could answer some of those questions. Some of the more serious charges against Raucci, including the high-level terrorism count, relate directly to Raucci’s interactions at the school district and his motivations.

Raucci, 61, of Niskayuna, is accused of planting bombs, vandalizing homes and intimidating people with an ultimate aim of currying favor with higher-ups in the school district to retain and solidify his power.

He is accused of placing incendiary devices at four homes around the Capital Region, including one in Schodack. Two of the devices exploded. No one was injured in the incidents.

He is also accused of damaging the cars and homes of people who disagreed with him, slashing tires, damaging paint or damaging windshields. The Grays reported their car or home being vandalized five times, the last time just four days before Raucci’s arrest.

Friends and family of Raucci have described in letters to the editor a man who was a workaholic, someone who served in Vietnam and has no criminal history, not the dangerous man they say he has been portrayed to be. They say his portrayal has been a distortion of the man they knew as loving and caring.

Charges challenged

The charges themselves, terrorism and arson, they say are overkill when none of the alleged victims was ever hurt.

The trial is also expected to shed some light on the informant who wore a wire as he conversed with Raucci, allegedly getting him to describe his deeds in a surreptitiously recorded conversation.

There have already been clues to who that might be, including that he once had access to night-vision goggles owned by the Glenville Police Department; the goggles were stolen from the department in about 1999, something the informant knew because he took them himself.

Carney himself has been loath to discuss the case publicly. But documents filed in court have included accusations that Raucci, the district’s facilities director, was close with top school district officials to the extent that they turned a blind eye to complaints of wrongdoing.

Raucci, Carney has alleged, was useful to those higher-ups because he offered labor peace. Besides his position as facilities supervisor, Raucci was president of the operations and maintenance workers bargaining unit at the school district, a part of the local CSEA chapter.

But while some of the charges will rely on testimony from witnesses that the defense can portray as parties with a financial stake in the outcome, some rely on old-fashioned police legwork to gather evidence.

DNA evidence

That physical evidence, bolstered by testimony, could make the difference in a case where prosecutors are trying to put Raucci away for the rest of his life.

According to one legal expert, the DNA evidence, testimony from the informant, all bolstered by other evidence, could prove difficult to explain.

“Certainly, if they found something that corroborated the testimony, it would make it much stronger,” said Albany Law School professor Laurie Shanks, who is not connected to the Raucci case. “At least there would be physical evidence say that he wasn’t just trying to help himself.”

Shanks teaches several classes on trial work at Albany Law.

In a Feb. 18, 2009, recorded conversation, the unidentified informant allegedly asked Raucci if he had any explosive devices so the informant could perform a “mission.” Raucci allegedly responded by taking out a 4-to-5-inch device with a fuse on the side, showing it to the informant, then hiding it behind a potted plant, according to papers filed in court.

Raucci’s office — inside Mont Pleasant Middle School — was raided just two days later. The device was found exactly where the informant said Raucci put it, according to the prosecution.

Tests later showed it was a live device. Carney has countered defense depictions of the devices as firecrackers by saying they were illegally manufactured and intended to cause damage.

For that device alone, Raucci faces one count of first-degree criminal possession of a weapon, accusing him of possessing it and intending to use it against someone else. It’s a charge that, by itself, carries a maximum of 25 years in state prison upon conviction.

Old article

Also allegedly found in the raid of Raucci’s office was a newspaper account of the August 2001 bombing in Rotterdam. The account was tucked in a briefcase, exactly where the informant said Raucci put it after an earlier conversation.

In that conversation with the informant, on Dec. 16, 2008, Raucci allegedly told the informant he was responsible for the 2001 Rotterdam bombing and that he “did it for a friend.”

Raucci also allegedly took out the newspaper article depicting an event that had been long forgotten by the public. It was an article that wasn’t even top news the day it appeared; it was tucked on an inside page.

Shanks said she would want to know what else was in the paper that day, whether it was the single article, or the entire section or paper.

“If it was just that article on the bombing and he has it eight years later, that could lead the jury to wonder why he had it if he didn’t have anything to do with it,” Shank said.

Wrong house

In the Rotterdam bombing, Raucci is accused of placing an explosive device on the door of a private residence. It turned out to be the wrong house. The device exploded.

Rotterdam Police investigating the bombing believed that Raucci had intended to damage the home of Sgt. Robert Denny of the Rotterdam Police Department, according to warrant papers. Raucci’s alleged motive was to help an unsuspecting union member, police believe. Denny was the union member’s supervisor.

The allegations fit the charge of first-degree arson — causing an explosion in an occupied building. He faces the same allegations in a April 10, 1993, bombing on Willow Lane in Glenville.

In two other cases, Raucci is accused of placing similar bombs, but the devices failed to detonate.

On Nov. 30, 2006, in Clifton Park, Raucci allegedly placed a device on a vehicle belonging to then-city schools athletic director Gary DiNola in a dispute over use of school facilities.

Prosecutors have alleged that Raucci perceived DiNola as a threat to his power in the district. DiNola complained to district officials, but nothing was done and DiNola retired, prosecutors contend.

It is that incident that has led to one of the more controversial charges against Raucci — terrorism.

Raucci faces the charge of terrorism because he allegedly placed the device with “intent to influence the policy of a unit of government” by “intimidation or coercion” and committing a serious weapons possession crime.

Terrorism case

While the allegations may fit the definition, possessing an explosive to further his standing in the city school district, Shanks questioned its use.

She likened it to the RICO laws against organized crime, laws that were intended for one use, but through broad interpretation have been expanded for other uses.

In terrorism’s case, the intent of the statute was something different from the way it’s being used.

“When you start using terms like ‘terrorism’ to make charges like that, you’ve really probably overcharged this person,” Shanks said.

In the other alleged failed device discovered on Jan. 12, 2007, Raucci is accused of placing it at the home of a Schodack woman and then vandalizing her house.

Raucci was allegedly intervening in a breakup local CSEA president Joanne DeSarbo had with a Schodack woman; the indictment alleges he placed a bomb at the woman’s home and vandalized it. DeSarbo, 49, also has been charged with burglarizing the home around that same time, a charge that remains pending.

By being DeSarbo’s “protector,” Raucci assured he would not be challenged from further up the union, Carney wrote in one pretrial filing.

But it was that explosive device that allegedly resulted in a direct connection to Raucci.

The bomber, Carney has alleged in papers, used a cigarette as a timed fuse. But the cigarette went out before it could light the device.

Not only did that leave an intact explosive, but it also left behind a cigarette with someone’s DNA on the filter.

A year and a half later, an undercover state police investigator followed Raucci to Sally’s Streetside Diner on Chrisler Avenue in Schenectady, waited until Raucci was finished eating and took the fork Raucci used for his meal after Raucci left.

Investigators mentioned the diner episode while interrogating Raucci the day he was arrested, Feb. 20, 2009.

“I had to get some DNA from you after you left,” Investigator Peter Minahan told Raucci, looking for a reaction, “after you had breakfast. I didn’t know if you’d remember me.”

By the time of Raucci’s arrest, tests showed the DNA from the handle of that fork matched DNA taken from the cigarette on the Schodack device, prosecutors have said.

Shanks said the DNA evidence would be important, but it would have to be bolstered by other evidence linking Raucci to the crime. A DNA match, she said, can’t be taken as solid proof of guilt in and of itself.

It’s something that jurors sometimes wrongly rely upon, she said.

“Jurors now are conditioned by TV,” Shanks said. “ ‘Law and Order’, ‘CSI,’ they want to hear scientific evidence. They tend to believe it, and perhaps, give it more credence than it’s worth.”

But it’s something, she said, that prosecutors can definitely build upon.

 
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February 28, 2010
1:53 p.m.
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