ALBANY The state Attorney General’s office is appealing a ruling that appears to put convicted arsonist Steven Raucci’s pension off-limits to his victims.
In the ruling, state Supreme Court Justice Roger D. McDonough sided with Raucci’s wife, Shelley, finding Raucci’s more than $5,700 per month pension payout is protected under state pension law.
The Attorney General’s office, representing the state Office of Victims Services, filed its notice of appeal last week.
If the ruling stands, Shelley Raucci’s attorney, Frank Putorti, said Monday, it would keep Raucci’s pension off-limits, even if his victims won their lawsuits against him. Putorti also said that they are hopeful that the ruling will stand on appeal.
Despite that, attorneys for Raucci victims the Capitummino family, of Rotterdam, appear to be pressing forward with their suit, as though the pension money will be available, referencing them in a lawsuit filed last month in state Supreme Court in Schenectady County. The Capitummino suit was filed four weeks after Justice McDonough’s pension ruling.
In his ruling, filed in January, Justice McDonough found Raucci’s pension is protected, even under the route in which the attorney general tried to have it frozen: The Son of Sam Law.
The Son of Sam Law aims to help victims get access to “funds of a convicted person.”
Changes in 2001 were aimed at ensuring that victims knew when convicted criminals came into money and allowing them to sue related to the crimes. Lawmakers identified gifts, inheritances, lottery winnings, judgments in civil lawsuits or investment income as areas where money could be sought.
Two of Raucci’s victims last August asked a judge to freeze much of Raucci’s pension payments under The Sun of Sam Law.
The Office of Victim Services initially filed the action on behalf of Raucci victims Laura Balogh and Stephen Capitummino, both of whom responded to the office’s official notification of the funds.
Raucci is currently housed at the maximum security Clinton Correctional Facility in Dannemora, serving 23 years to life.
He was convicted nearly a year ago of 18 of 22 counts lodged against him. Raucci was convicted of numerous criminal acts, including placing bombs on homes or cars, in a series of incidents intended to intimidate people he perceived as enemies or enemies of his friends. No one was injured in any of the incidents.
Raucci served as the city school district’s facilities manager and also led the union unit representing the workers he supervised.
Among the crimes Raucci was convicted of was attacking Balogh’s Schodack home in January 2007, covering it with red paint and planting an explosive device on her door. The attack, prosecutors argued, came in an effort by Raucci to solidify his position in his public service union.
It is for the crime against the Capitummino family, first-degree arson, that Raucci is serving the most time — up to life.
Raucci was convicted of exploding a device on the family’s door, believing that his intended target lived there. Steve Capitummino was 15 feet away, on the other side of the door, when the blast went off. His wife, Colleen Capitummino, testified that the experience was terrifying. Steve Capitummino testified that it had a lasting effect on their children.
The Office of Victim Services acts to freeze the assets of convicts so the funds are available, if victims prevail in lawsuits. A victim services spokesman Monday noted, in general, that lawsuits can proceed with or without the assets frozen. The spokesman, however, couldn’t comment on the pension issue itself.
It was unclear if Balogh has filed her suit.
The Capitumminos are suing for intentional infliction of emotional distress, assault and battery, trespass and negligence/willful misconduct.
They are represented by attorney John B. Casey. Casey could not be reached for comment. An attorney for Balogh also could not be reached.
Raucci is paid $6,588 each month. According to the Office of Victims Services court filing, his “take-home” pay is $5,789. He retired shortly after his arrest and now collects a pension of more than $79,000 annually.
Raucci’s pension has received special scrutiny from the public after testimony at his criminal trial suggested that Raucci had subordinates do the jobs he got credit for through overtime.
Questions were also raised about Raucci’s steep salary spike, from $69,000 in 2003 to more than $104,000 when he became the district’s energy manager in 2004. Changes could be made to his pension payout, officials have said, but only through the employer correcting payroll records.
Raucci’s pension, and the state pension of anyone else convicted of a crime, has always been protected under state law, the state comptroller’s office has said.
The Office of Victim Services accepted that argument, but instead asked the judge to seize a large portion of Raucci’s pension money after it was paid, essentially skirting the pension protections.
Justice McDonough denied that request.
McDonough wrote the court recognized the “strong public policy arguments” supporting the victims, and the Legislature’s efforts to protect crime victims.
“Nevertheless, the Court finds that the Legislature and the Court of Appeals have clearly immunized ‘retirement allowances’ from the relief sought herein,” McDonough wrote. “Therefore, any remedy for this apparently inequitable result can only emanate from the Legislature of this State.”