ALBANY – A convicted criminal’s state pension is not shielded from the Son of Sam Law, an upstate appellate court has held in allowing the Office of Victim Services to freeze the retirement benefits owed to a school district employee.
The Appellate Division, Third Department, reversed the trial court and drew a sharp distinction between general creditors and crime victims.
Justice Thomas Mercure (See Profile) said reducing crime victims to the status of creditors in regard to their ability to garnish public pensions “thwarts the Legislature’s stated intent of holding convicted criminals financially accountable regardless of the source of their wealth.”
New York State Office of Victim Services v. Raucci, 513039, stems from one of the most sensational recent criminal prosecutions in the Capital Region.
Steven Raucci, a former Schenectady School District facilities director who planted bombs on the homes and cars of people he perceived as enemies, was convicted in 2010 of 18 counts, including charges that he detonated and attempted to detonate explosives at two of his victim’s homes.
As a longtime government employee, Raucci is entitled to a pension of about $5,800 a month. Raucci gave his wife, Shelley, power of attorney “thereby giving her control over the funds and threatening their disbursements in a manner that would render ineffectual any civil judgments obtained by the crime victims,” the court said.
After receiving notice that two victims intended to seek civil damages, the state Office of Victim Services brought an action under the Son of Sam Law to freeze the assets.
Although the Son of Sam Law was initially enacted to prevent criminals from profiting from their crimes, it was broadened in 2001 to permit victims to seek “any” funds of the convicted from “any source.” But Retirement and Social Security Law §110 generally protects public pensions from garnishment.
Acting Supreme Court Justice Roger McDonough (See Profile) held that Raucci’s pension was off-limits to crime victims, but the Third Department unanimously reversed.
Mercure acknowledged that the Court of Appeals in 1984 in Board of Education of the City of New York v. Treyball, 63 NY2d 980, indicated, in dicta, that §110 protects retirement income from creditors. But he noted that Treyball was decided long before the Son of Sam Law was expanded and “is not relevant.”
“Although the Legislature expressly exempted certain categories of funds from the reach of the Son of Sam Law, it did not list pension proceeds as one of those categories, indicating that such funds were intended to be recoverable,” Mercure wrote. “Further, the construction of the statute [Steven and Shelley Raucci] advanced would perpetuate the very injustice that the statute sought to eliminate in attempting to ensure that ‘[c]rime victims and their families…will never again fear that they can only watch helplessly while convicted criminals freely spend their’ money.”
Assistant Solictor General Owen DeMuth represented the Office of Victim Services.
Shelley Raucci was represented by Frank Putorti of Schenectady.
Tina Stanford, director of the Office of Victim Services, said, Steven Raucci’s criminal trial demonstrated how one person could victimize individuals and an entire community.
“While nothing can be done to erase the trauma and hardships his victims and the community suffered, it is important that the state works diligently to protect their rights and to hold criminals entirely accountable for their misdeeds,” she said.
The victim services office relies on fines, mandatory surcharges and crime victim assistance fees to compensate victims for expenses related to their injuries, loss of essential property such as eyeglasses, funeral costs and other damages. It does not rely on tax dollars.
@|John Caher can be reached at email@example.com.