419: Petty Tyrant
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But we I heard reports of people's electric cords being just caught, you know, at the source of that they couldn't be used again, just you know, physically snipped at half. So you know, we didn't we didn't want to cause trouble. So he just tried to live reasonably at one point Richard Agnello, the special education teacher was working in the middle school. And I had this little office with no heat. None in winter will be fifty six degrees in there. He bought a thermometer from science classroom to check Yasser heat repeatedly nothing happened. So he broke the rules Bryden with space heater. Would you would hide in the file cabinet night? So one went to morning it gets to work, and he turns on the space heater hangs up his coat. Suddenly Steve Rossi walks in sees the heater is bowl djing and veins on his head. You know, throbbing started yelling you mean, saying what do you do with that space heater here? You're not supposed to have that here that's against district policy, and by kind of taken a pack that can someone get this upset over a little heat in the room. And I said, you know, what you're right, and I'm not trying to be a scofflaw, but look at my thermometer. It's fifty seven degrees in here. And he didn't have much to say he's sputtered in few and said we've got to get rid of that next day Agnello is walking up flight of stairs. And sees a maintenance worker coming down the stairs. He's carrying my space heater in an arm cradle football. And he's running down the stairs. And I saw him from about half a fly away innocent aim. What are you doing with my space heater niece? I don't talk to me. Talk to me, talk to my boss, and he ran out the front door ran past me jumped into the district van that was parked outside and tore away from the building just spewing rocks as he went, I got to think, tucked under my arm. I'm going down the stairs. That's John the point junior the district Trish in who'd been sent to remedy this very very serious space heater infraction. And this guy goes right at right at the bottom of the stairs. I'm heading out to my truck. That's my space heater. Where are you going with that I go, you gotta talk facilities, you know, see Rossi facilities, and I just kept going. The people who worked under Steve Rossi the stories a diamond dozen, and it's got all the hallmarks of Rossy style. The temper the fanatical control over every single detail around him the pettiness comic strip antics, even the fact that workers were forbidden to talk to teachers when they were out on a job. It's going to school district has a good reputation democray and the people in town knew the usual things about their schools. The test scores good teachers the budget fights. But they didn't know was it a huge scandal was slowly coming to a boil in one of the least likely places down Norwood avenue along the side of Mont pleasant middle school behind the high chain link fence riding a parking lot filled with trucks and vans and area called the pan alongside the pen. There's a big rise where they strove on mowers and tons of supplies. That's where the workers hang out the custodians. And the maintenance guys they were Steve Rossi subjects who only half jokingly called Steve the king or the doctor or sometimes even just God. Everybody who worked for him as an example of something that he did something just off enough. They've never forgotten it while I was in the when I was in the restroom he slid newspapers on fire underneath the door. He had eggs right chickens. So I bring in for the gas and he saw him in the fridge or something. He goes. Oh here. He makes the gal is secretary pick. Who he throws the again, she didn't wanna pick anybody. I was on my way home one day. And I see some smoking in the in the middle of the road as I'm approaching it when my van. And all the sudden this thing goes Bob bone scared to live in daylights outta me. You know what? I mean. I mean, it was this thing when it went off it shook the whole area. So I come to work the next morning Steve sitting there, he starts asking me. So anything exciting happening or anything unusual happen. And I'm like. It was you. WBZ Chicago. It's this American life America class today program at one guy came to be on touchable. I regret power dominated everybody around him. So it's fear sedans cruelty playing by rules that he invented and people all around it couldn't be but with the power to stop him. What had happened what so interesting about this is that all the intrigue and drama did not happen in setting like national, politics or big business is guy wasn't Harvey Weinstein with power to make somebody a movie star. This is a study interior any writ small Machiavellian scheming in the maintenance office of school district. At one of today's show is about what it was like at the height of Steve Rossi's power to his bed. How he fell? Reverse broadcast today show years ago when all this happened this week is the tenth anniversary of Rossi's arrest. And he just did an interview with a reporter about what happened. We system thinks. He's never said some details of that at the end of the program. The report for our story, Sarah panic who had it begin the host of the podcast cereal. And let's get to it. Here's your Kannik. Of course there. Tarango manipulative bullies everywhere. But Steve Rossi was special for Chuo. So Schenectady county district attorney, Bob Kearney? Something of an expert on tough characters of all kinds since he's been DA. He's overseen the convictions of more than eighty murderers in some of them did unspeakably bad things. But you know, in terms of a person who bullies people and studies the art of intimidation and coercion. I don't think there's anybody that compares with him because he he made it the theme in the phone. Of his life. What also makes the Rossi affair unusual is that he got away with it quietly for decades. So that when he was finally arrested in February of two thousand nine charged with twenty-six felonies from weapons possession to arson to terrorism. The citizens of Schenectady were incredulous Carl struck a writer for this connected Daily Gazette wrote dozens of columns about the case, he's not someone who ever thought the school district. Could yield interesting news, not only Schenectady school district, but any school district around here that I've heard of these are boring boring places for journalist. I mean, if a clerk sometimes embezzles twenty dollars from the petty cash drawer, you know, that would be a big event in in a school district school districts attract in this kind of noble minded, people in so my first reaction, and I think everybody's was wild. How could this happen? How can you have a mid level employees in the school district? Being sort of a terrorist. Really, you know, vandalizing people's houses threatening them bodily, you know, in grabbing them physically, you know, humiliating them in all this that had been going on for years. How could this? How could this have happened? Steve Rossi grew up in Schenectady. It's a small mostly working class middle class city about three hours north of Manhattan. He started working in the district in nineteen Seventy-three making three dollars and twelve cents an hour as a laborer. He worked his way up to groundskeeper than maintenance guy. And by the time his career ended thirty six years later. He was in charge of all twenty one of the district's school buildings. He was sixty years old married to his third wife. Shelly no children living in a modest condo. The stories people tell about Steve's behaviour, and they're probably hundreds of stories fall into a few categories first humiliating hijinks second insatiable control and third retribution reserved for those who didn't react well to the first and second categories, I talk to John the point junior the electricity in Allen, Frederick, Steve's former secretary Brian Schaefer district carpenter and a few other people who didn't want their names used. They all said that humiliation was a daily event and often Qripoli sexual here's Ellen Frederick. He walked around my desk and walked behind me pretended to grab my hair pretending to drag me in his office and bend me over his desk. And. Proceeded to. He's simulated we got it. We knew exactly what he was doing. And then there was the so-called man game. He would like he'd put his hand on a guy sti-. Why? And kind of jokingly wait for any sort of reaction from the person to sit because you know, if you enjoyed that perhaps you'd be gay. Once he has two young employees to show him a picture of his girlfriend who was beautiful. So the guy did the picture was on his phone and Steve asked him to E mail it to him and the guy said no Steve best again, the kid said, no. And then Steve suggested that if he still wanted that raised they'd talked about he would send the photo. So the guy did the next morning big blown up copy of it was taped to the office whiteboard along with a caption to disgusting to repeat the kid was horrified. Steve's ants was I didn't know you were coming in today. I thought you were off if you were out to breakfast with Steve. And a core group of employees was compelled to attend these breakfasts, you might poor shaker of salt in your coffee when your back was turned or sneak up on you in the bathroom and steal your glasses. Stephen open your paycheck and write something embarrassing on the back or even the front at morning, meaning sometimes our long affairs at which Steve would read aggressive prepared remarks Soviet style to the twenty or so guys gathered you might bring up your personal problems higher. Marriage was on the rocks. Your wife cheating on you apropos of nothing an older guy who's since retired from the. Told me you can say a lot of it was funny. But it was funny. Like this. We're at a restaurant, and he took his beer bottle and put the base of it halfway across the table. So as teetering at any moment crash, and then it was a disaster. He said. You don't do stuff? Like this slide flaming newsprint under a door pretend to have sex with your secretary, unless you're sure you can get away with it Steve ashore, he was methodical and utterly and charge. For one thing. He controlled work assignments for the hundred ten people he managed and treated his department like a combination of an army unit and a fourth grade classroom. If you messed up one of his many rules, even in small way, he'd make you right? I will not do such and such over and over on that whiteboard. Every day you're supposed to arrive at six fifty five AM if he came in seven the official start of the work day, he make you sign in late at the Adleman office in a different building a few streets away. Alan Frederick has secretary was a favorite of Steve's for while. She was the fade his King Kong, except that he's actually small trim chiseled guy who were Brown, we even his gray hair until you had to shave it for prison, Ellen was such a favorite that even talk back to him sometimes at meal, she always had to be at aside. Pete assign everyone else eats as well. He tell her how he likes to look hair long and curly skirt short leggings. Sometimes the staff was told they weren't allowed to talk to her. She was his alone. But eventually even she crossed him. And if you cross Steve you were done she and a couple of other people in the office for having a casual conversation one day about romantic types, Steve Estella what she meant. So she explained you know, what I mean. Like you like Susan Lucci. He was obsessed with Susan Lucci. He loved her, you know, he had pictures of her underneath his little desk. His bladder. You know, and I said, well, you know, like like like, you're not my type I like Matthew, mcconaughey. Hey, you know, he's like, my type, you know, whatever you thought that. I just told him I put the knife right in his heart. His face turned beet red his veins popped out of his neck. I mean, he couldn't even talk. He was just like, okay that's enough or done here. So that was it two weeks later. I was in a different office own was moved to a different building different department. No questions asked. It wasn't a demotion. But it wasn't what she wanted other than steph's. She really liked her job in the maintenance department on a lot of friends there and ministers told her they were moving for her own protection. Didn't explain what they meant. She told me she later heard Stephen threatened her at a meeting with ministers saying if she doesn't go quietly she knows what's going to happen. Her her house and her family. And all this time. No one said anything because if they did they knew they'd face the same sort of retribution from Steve people said they were frayed to talk sometimes for fear. They'd accidentally say the wrong thing. Someone would report it back to Steve he openly encouraged reporting back rewarding gossip with time off or overtime pay a district carpenter even made a wooden wedge of cheese, which would end up in your mailbox if you'd been what Steve called a good rep Steve flaunted his vengeance. His mastery of it at a union holiday party in two thousand seven everyone dressed up. Having a nice time he stood up and ask for their attention. So he could read a speech instead of toast, while they're hard work and the fun times to come. He issued a yuletide warning. If you criticise me behind my back, you will be very very sorry. Doesn't matter if you say while you're in a drugstore a mall or one of our schools unless you're talking to yourself. There's always a good chance of leaking back to me. Please found the text of the speech. Steve's computer when they seized it. That's Bob Kearney. Reading the district attorney. Any who personally prosecuted? Steve. So you understand how important it is for me to protect myself with my responsibility. I will mention the names of several people in our department that I have eliminated because they find out just how protective I can be some of you may remember them. If you're noticing a certain embattled tone for Rossi, the maintenance department is an operatic drama of endless threats and intrigue he can't trust. Anyone constantly undermined by disloyal minions. You're either with Steve or you're against eve he'd tell people there is no on the fence. Fence writers get hurt it. Recite lines from goodfellas and other tough guy movies without irony in conversations about routine office business in his Christmas speech. He went on to denounce the bunch of people he'd eliminated including these guys. Bob Newnham Oscar who was a plumber in this department who thought he was better than the people. He worked with including me, even attempted to fight my decision to get rid of him by going to our union officials at the local on the region took me one day to eliminate him and his partner who said he had who said to me he had. Allegiance to him. Not me two days later. They were both gone. This holiday message. That's like a really fun party. Oh, yeah. I think it was probably probably, you know, up the alcohol intake for the evening. The story of the plumbers was a classic case. There were two plumbers on staff, the senior plumber was giving Steve lip but to get rid of him. Steve would have to get rid of the junior plumber. I because of seniority roles so he tried to get the junior plumber to take another position to make way for Steve defines partner guy didn't wanna do it when longtime employee who didn't want his name us told me about it. It disgusted him to see how easy it was for Steve to can the junior plumber. So we read them just easy. And it was no challenge. There was no question. You know, either from the administration school board or anything when it came across the table. There was just no questions the union didn't question like this guy's got a year and a half. Why why are you getting rid of them? All of a sudden, you know, nothing Steve justified the firings as. Cost cutting measure to the administration saying the district didn't need any plumbers month later. Of course, they heard another plumber, but anyone who stuck up for the enemy plumbers was punished this guy whose retired now had taken that risk questioning the firings. Deceives face. Well, I told him I said, I didn't think it was. Right. So after you said, I don't think it's the right thing. Then what happened to you? I went to the high school. What did it mean to be sent over to the ice school was just to humiliate the employees that was involved in that? I mean, you you would have to take out the trash she would have to you would get the worst part of the building to clean up after the kids. The one part of the building that was kind of isolated that. We're the milk was spelt in the chips were thrown and food was all over the windows and things, you know, and there's nothing wrong with doing an honest day's work. But it wasn't. I I spent my whole life getting into this position. And now I'm demoted back to where I. Was thirty years ago. You're exiled there. Yes. How long did your exhau- last seven weeks the length of time was until he felt you learned your lesson? Did you learn your lesson? In other words, did you speak up about things after that? No. I did not because his his big threat to me was that. I was at the time. I was fifty one years old I thirty plus years in the school district. Where was I going to go and get a job? What was I going to do start over? How was I gonna Ford child support? How was I going to support my children? How was I going to do things with my sons that I enjoy doing without a job? And he used that those things you were saying to yourself inside your head or things he was saying he was saying that to me those requests I heard this over and over I needed my job, which I did I have had no one to complain to. I had nowhere to go for help. Steve convinced his workers that he was responsible for any pleasure. Any benefit that came their way, which meant he could also take it away without warning the oldest trick in the tyrant playbook. Steve knew the only way he could maintain the kind of absolute control. He wanted over the people below him was to be in the excellent good graces of the many bosses above him and the union school board the district ministration, arguably his chief talent was figuring out how to make himself indispensable to them Stephen worked in the school system so long he knew exactly which levers to poll and in what her. He started with the union in the nineteen nineties. The district's maintenance department was in bad shape. It was unruly and supervisors weren't lasting very long. The district was getting lots of grievances about working conditions and pay. It got so bad that the district considered getting rid of the maintenance department altogether. Hiring an outside company to do the work back in those days. Steve Rossi was just a regular utility worker with a reputation for strangely aggressive pranks. We decided to run for president of his unit in the union, which is the C S E, a civil service employees association. He promised to help settle the workers problems himself. Anyone John the point the electricity from the space heater incident voted for Steve even campaign for him John's is slim dark haired guy with goatee and stylish glasses. He's in his fifties. And a son also works in the maintenance department, John's a deeply nice and gentleman and yet he became one of Steve's inner circle, John and his wife would go to dinner with Steve and his wife and few other couples you couldn't refuse. These dinners at the time two thousand one John was impressed with Steve in the beginning. He was very effective jumping on issues immediately resolving immediately. And you know, he he seemed like wow. This guy's a pit bull. You know, what I mean, he's grabbing growl in and getting stuff done. And you don't be surprised to learn that under his administration number of grievances. From that unit. Went from an average of twenty to twenty five year down to zero. That's Carl Strock again, the columnist there were no union grievances. So this, of course is a big advantage to the administration. You know, it's time consuming to deal with these grievances. He was he was a wonderful asset as head of the union. Steve had the opportunity to gain entrance to the inner workings of the entire school district all from his perch in the maintenance office, he became friendly with a guy named Jeff Genesis sqi. They had breakfast meetings at a local. Chain restaurant. Genesis was school board president. But even when he wasn't on the board Janicki was widely known around town as the boards kingmaker. He chose candidates and got him elected. That's where St. Rossi came in their whole electioneering effort was pretty much undertaken by Owen m unit. Let's DA. Bob kearney? Oh, an M is the operations and maintenance department, the one Rossi ran if they had phone banks at night, you know, the he would bring twenty of his guys the teachers would bring maybe to they would pass out flyers. You know, they would do phone banking of voters and overwhelmingly was his people. I do believe from what I know about electioneering in politics in school board elections that that kind of level of effort would be affective to to turn election because you're only dealing with for five hundred people that vote in for many years that faction was very successful in controlling the. The school district, and and one consistently one school board elections in Rossi took credit for that in memos on emails that he said to them several people who worked for Rossi Tomi, if they refuse to do all this campaign. Grunt work, they'd most certainly be punished for it. They also told me they'd had to pass out election. Flyers endorsing candidates or urging passage of the budget door to door on district time, which is a legal in New York. Steve's influence earned him yet. More influence two years after becoming union president. He was promoted to director of buildings and grounds for the district. His salary jumped from thirty seven and a half thousand to sixty seven and a half thousand but he wasn't called the director because if he officially became a director or manager of anything that men he couldn't also be in the union much less run his unit position very much wanted to keep so on paper. He finagled the underwhelming title of quote, head utility worker that way he could keep his union control. An addition he wouldn't have to take the civil service exam required to qualify for manager's job. And importantly, he could still get overtime pay which managers don't I asked a former district official didn't want to be named about all this. Why he allowed Rossy to cut all these corners in terms of his title in his pay. Why he promoted him at all considering history in the past Rossy been disciplined for take. Work trucks, home or disappearing on the job. And there were rumors about explosives and administrators card been set on fire, for instance. And there was talk that Rossi was involved. The former official sorrowfully defended his decisions I believed in Steve Rossi. He told me the maintenance department was tough unit troubled unit. And I thought he was someone who cared about the district who do good job. I'm sorry now. But it's hard to say publicly that I believed in him at the time. It's like saying Hitler was a good guy. As for the personnel. File the former officials said he didn't know about all the complaints in suspicions about Steve at the time because he never looked at the file. This part of Steve story is the most confounding to me how it could have happened that a boss of a hundred and ten people was also their union president, which seascapes men he could threaten their jobs. Prevent them from going over his head cut off all avenues of complaint. How was such a blatant conflict of interest allowed to stand? Some people had brought it up, and it was squelched pretty quick Steve dealt with that very quickly. John the point again, we actually had a meeting at headquarters and Leith them, and it was explained to us that it was actually quite common for a boss doll. So be union president. In fact, it's not that strange for so called straw boss to be a union president someone who's supervising maybe four or five people. What is unheard of at sea SEA? However, and probably at any union is a union president who's an actual boss over one hundred ten people capable of hiring and firing at will. It seems only a couple of people try to do anything about this. One of them was Michele tobacco co chair of the Union's grievance committee for Schenectady county. She tried hard to boot him, but she was blocked at every turn. I was part of three meetings trying to get Steve Rossi. I'll I knew that would the position he was in was a conflict of interest. And then he should have judicial charges filed against him. I knew that. So I had a meeting with Kathy Garesson, Kathy garrison is the region for president of CSE. A I know Steve Rossi was there, and I told him I wanted him out of the union. I thought we had all evidence in the world to prove that he was part of management more grievous thing. Can you have as the union present to be imbed? What the school board with the facility supervisor what the attorneys with the are you kidding me? That's who represents our members. Just one of those things he should have been. You're working me all up. Sorry. Tobacco took up this fight. When she started getting phone calls to three six, maybe eight total people who worked for Steve. And it was always the same complaint. Bullying belittling, people embarrassing people threatening to fire them if they didn't do what he said. And I told them that we could file grievances. But I needed them to give me their name, and we could talk about it. So, but nobody ever would. And then I you know that wouldn't hear from them. Again. They said they were afraid of the repercussions. The reason they were calling her is because they couldn't use the normal chain of command worker had a problem refers supposed to go to their supervisor Steve then their complaint when go up a level to the district's director of human resources, Mike streak, Ohs pal. Steve's wants presented him with a framed picture of Marlon Brando as the godfather at a morning staff meeting after that, there was a unions labor relations specialist guy guiding Mike camp on who was good friends with school. President Jefferson zoo sqi another Steve supporter and the head of the union local also friends with Steve was a spider's web of good old boys since Debenham couldn't get workers to go public. She tried to Steve on a technicality. He was clearly making too much money for his title of head utility worker, which therefore had to be a phony she filed official requests twice with the school district demanding that they disclosed financial information about Steve. And how did the school district respond to these official requests for transparency regarding Steve's position request? They're required to respond to according to labor law. They never answered me. They never answered me tobacco. Couldn't prove anything. And none of her union superiors care to press it the higher ups at SEA light. Steve he helped them with their campaigns. You know, I the union I think broke down at every level. I blame myself for a lot of these things. I wish I could have fought more to get him out of there. CSC blue this one big time. We blew it. One of the main ways Stephen grey shaded himself with his bosses was also the most traditional when used by any manager in any workplace to get in good with the people in charge. He saved the money lots of it. And the way he did that was pretty ingenious in two thousand four year after he takes over the maintenance department, Steve also becomes the defacto energy manager for the district, hence the space heater incident. Another guy had had the job, but he wasn't meeting his energy reduction goals. What happened was that? The district had invested in energy tracking software that if us probably was supposed to reduce its energy consumption by twenty percent. I'm big savings guy named Lou Simione was put in charge of the program seventy something thousand dollar year job Steve decided he wanted it. So began to sabotage Lou John the point knew what was going on. Steve would make it very difficult for Lou to have any access on the computer to make any changes to the heating system lighting. And so on. So lose in charge of getting the numbers down. But he doesn't actually have his hands on the buttons to make that happen. You got it. Right. There's a computer that you access you could see all the buildings through it and make your changes. And he Steve would let Lucy it. But not change anything. He's somebody else would make the changes. So you can kinda take it from there. What kind of changes were being made? And it wasn't in lose favor. Okay. Steve, for instance, left the heat and lights on in every building over the three day. Columbus Day holiday, he wants pretended. The school's football lights were broken and John had to pretend to fix them. Football field lights is got I'm thinking about one hundred and twenty these lights, and they draw a lot of power. So we. We Adam them turned on during the day, and they stayed on for a few hours to eat up some energy. You know what I mean? And in fact, they weren't being worked on they were just being left on. And did you know why? Well, you can. Yeah. I mean, Steve didn't really hide the fact that he was growing low. You know what I mean? Well, how did you? How did you feel that? He was asking you to do this thing, which you knew was totally baloney and also unfair to this other guy again, you know, just did with the guy wanted to do. Did it make you mad? Of course. Well. It is upsetting. You know that you're doing this type of stuff? But again, I I'm just I'm I keep telling myself. I'm just doing my boss asked me to do is your union, president your boss. With Steve again, you're either with against them. It's the way was. So lose energy savings numbers were bad. Maybe single digits. Steve persuaded the administration to give him the job instead. But again, not the title of energy manager since that would jeopardize his union situation. He said he'd do the job for half loose salary, which he'd collect in overtime in this way. Steve salary nearly doubled. So that by the time he is arrested in two thousand nine he was making about one hundred and twenty five thousand dollars a year the superintendent by contrast was making about one hundred ninety four thousand. As energies are Steve was fearless. He would openly do battle with anyone who tried to turn on a switch. He didn't they needed turning on didn't matter if you're a teacher or administrator one time priest who wanted weekend heat in a classroom being leased from church in an Email, Steve call the clergyman quote joker and a crook with a collar and Foued to fight him. Because of all this Steve's energy reduction numbers were great. He got consumption down by studying thirty percent. Save the district. Millions and bills was publicly praised by the administration and in particular superintendent, Eric Ellie for whom Rossi at a soft spot judging from their Email exchanges, the two became pretty cozy. It's an Email from Rossi to Eric Lee superintendent schools. Dated September fourth two thousand eight. That's the Bob Kearney by often told you that you, and I are alike in many ways, we just have different backgrounds. We both like to win. And we do not care how we do it as long as we went you both tell it like it is. And if someone doesn't like what we say, that's too damn bad. If we've not like someone we let them know about it. And usually do something about it there. We may differ a little according to rumors when I don't like someone I force them to go away or make them disappear. When you don't like someone you have to wait until they die of old age unless you give me their name. The columnist Carl Strock has favorite from these emails. Here's one from the superintendent, Eric Lee to Steve Rossi dated of February sixteenth two thousand nine which was just a couple of days before Rossi was arrested when he had done everything he was going to do it committed all crimes and all the complaints that we're gonna go to ili had gone to him. He had been told in. Rossi had written him a sort of a flattering of flattering Email. Eric Lee responded, there aren't many I trust you are one. Thank you. Eric. And then came the incident known simply as the letter which eventually would lead to Steve's downfall. On that at minute. Steve Rossi finally goes too far. But he can't be brought down until his fork is stolen from a diner. Sara canning story about him continues which public radio when our program continues. Support for this American. Life comes from ZipRecruiter, some job boards, overwhelm you with tons of the wrong resumes. But ZipRecruiter finds the right people for your job and actively invites them to apply. 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We've ran today show back in twenty ten shortly. After all this happened. We have arrived at the fall part of his rise and fall zehr. Canning picks up the story in early two thousand five someone sent an anonymous letter to the Union's regional see SEA president Kathy garrison complaining about Steve saying he was running his unit like a mafia boss that he wasn't qualified for his job that it should be kicked out of. SEA the letter immediately got back to Steve John the point again, he he'd called me off a job in had me come into his office. I quite agitated and he's shoving this letter at me. And he's saying read it read it, and it was unbelievable. I mean, he he was out of control. He was so angry, and we're trying to calm him down and spits flying out of his mouth veins were bulging out of his neck, his head looked like it was going to pop off his shoulders. I mean, this is how to heart. He took this letter. I started reading getting halfway through. He's pressure me. Who did who wrote this, you know, wrote this in in? Finally, it just. I heard it out, Debbie. Debbie was Debbie grey wife of how gray who worked in the maintenance department alongside John the point Jala gun to high school with Steve known him forever. And how w we're both active in the union for the record Debbie says, she didn't write that notorious letter that she's not the type to do anything like that anonymously. But Steve was convinced he and how hadn't been getting along. Steve confronted Hal about the letter called him a rat forbid him to come to morning meetings. Banished him to the high school. A few months later in may of two thousand five the grace discovered rat spray painted and huge capital letters across their tans. Suburban two story house. Steve arranged caravan from work to go check it out. He made all the guys pile into four district. Vehicles drive about ten miles away to the town of burnt hills or the grays lived. We saw the side aisles the front of house in any other side as you go passed it a rat. And I believe it was red paint vehicles were splashed paint. The front door. I mean, this house was devastated. John the point was in the passenger seat in the lead car next to Steve he was very amused on the way up and on the way back and you had to put on you had to put on the face to. I mean, you're riding in the vehicle with him. You have to show him the approval so to speak. He wanted to see you happy about this because he was reveling in the glory of what he? Supposedly done. I saw pictures of the damage. Steve's Emma with paint was to hit every surface every fixture every window to make really expensive to fix. He was a professional after all there were more attacks vandalism on the grave over the years. Maybe six all together and threats to burn down their house to move out of town or else they complained to the union about it school district officials knew about it. But there was no evidence linking Rossy to the crimes. Nothing happened. Finally after two and a half years. How Debbie gray called the district attorney's office in Schenectady day. Bob kearney? Didn't think much would come of it? My secretary scheduled meeting for me with some people from the local CA. They wanna talk about a problem. They were having in the union. So I assumed it was something to do with control of the union or union fighting, and I wasn't expecting what I what I got Carney had never heard of Steve Rossi. He says he was blown away by their story. They were very angry. And they were very scared. How gray was a decorated helicopter pilot from Vietnam us, very tough guy. But the fact that their home was under attack in the middle of the night in it's one thing to say in hindsight, well, spray paint, you can deal with spray paint. But the problem is you don't have to deal with. And if you're somebody is capable of spray painting. Your house is also capable of setting it on fire. And so they lived in fear that their house the property and maybe their lives would be in danger at anytime. I know he told me that they ended up secreting arms around the house run rifles guns to protect themselves in case, you need it. And at that point on. They also told me about other victims that Rossi had had accrued over the years. And so we started making quarries in got some police agencies involved. Turns at Roissy was suspected in all kinds of other stuff. Dangerous stuff. The case of Gary Danila, for instance, to Nola was the district's well respected athletics director an award winning teacher. He fought with Steve for a year and a half about getting access to sports facilities which Steve denied. So finally denote complain to superintendent Eric Healey Steve instantly found out and sent to Noah menacing Email Danila woke up the next morning to find his tire slashed and an explosive big one tucked under his windshield wiper. There were old cases to the most serious was from two thousand one in the nearby town of Rotterdam when a man was woken up in the middle of the night to metal front door being blown by bomb. Steve got the wrong address in that case bomb had been meant for COPD on the street. And there was a case of Laura blog. Laura worked at the union had been romantically involved with the unions local president when the relationship broke up. Steve went to her house at night spray. Painted cheater read letters on her house and Skoda and planted an explosive on her doorstep. Which never detonated that was investigators first big break Rossi had used a cigarette. But as a fuse the homemade bomb, but Rossi wasn't a smoker, and he didn't know about New York safety paper regulations that about we'll go out on its own if it's left lit from the stub the police got a DNA sample, but since Rossi had no criminal record. He wasn't in their system. And they couldn't make a match until they got another sample. They knew to be from Rossy Ellen Frederick Rossi's. Former secretary is married to a former cop and that former cop knew the state police investigator in charge of Rossi's case this investigator approached my husband at a gathering and said, you know, I understand that your wife knows quite a bit about this Steve Rossi and my husband said, yeah. You know, she does. I mean, she was his secretary whatever, and he sub United really like to sit and talk with her will in that got the ball rolling. The came up with a plan Steve breakfast out at local diners Sally's. Peter pause blue ribbon Ellen would discreetly find out from one of. Roll colleagues where see was headed that morning. And then tell the investigator were to go investigator would try to secure dirty utensil from Steve's place setting after weeks of trying investigator finally nabbed a fork off Steve's plate before the waitress could cleared away the cops had their match that enough evidence to link Steve to the crimes that Laura blogs house, and they could have stopped there. But they wanted to try to get him for the other crimes too. So they enlisted Keith McKenna. Another former cop who'd recently been busted on a drug charge. And was in trouble many years before Keith Stephen been close friends, they powder out after hours messed with explosives together as it happened DA. Bob Kearney had grown up across the street. From Keith McKenna suggested he might help out with the case Keith hadn't spent time with Steve for decade. But it goes to see him at the school on the pretense of needing help some kind of job Steve is warm and welcoming and remarkably forthcoming. I could say a quarter wall. Never say. Yeah, I've move a window. Just never know wire that of course, with Steve doesn't know is that Keith is wired. I wrote to St. Rossi in prison asking for an interview, but never heard back. So these tapes are all we've got listening to them. It's like hearing a grainy homemade version of those mobster movies Steve lake so much Steve talks about punks and broads wiseguys street Justice. Only wide of. It's almost as if sees been waiting all his life to lay out his worldview on tape. If only someone would ask Keith McKenna doesn't even have to. He says relatively little in these recordings which are from three separate meetings and Steve's office over the course of two months in answer to the most generic questions. What have you been up to lately? House work have you seen? So. And so Steve let's loose like a champion for the cops. The tapes are gold mine, Steve essentially confesses by name to almost all of the bombings and vandalism and bad acts. The cops already suspect him of Jalan, Debbie gray, the two thousand one Rotterdam bombing. How he didn't know the cigarette butts would late as explosives. Cool. What I don't why taking revenge on someone at home is his method of choice while we wonder worsening. We think of is not feeling say in your own. Okay. So I guess we're willing to keep the debt. Some of the things I do. I I never. His acquitting. Can do allow property damage? You can do a lot with that. A big fem- with Stephen these recordings is how there's nothing he can't get away with in the district. Nobody dares him to make cuts in his department. You can hire who likes fiery likes. No one could complain. Well. One last or live with the other. He gestures to the photo of the godfather, Don Corleone, that's hanging on his wall. People out there had been facing office. That's the way they gave me. I'm raw I never thought that whole fewer. I'm what he he'll. And they know it they kind of I think they in a way of Meyer that bombing. When I talk about sometimes, you know, that's the only Joseph there. And I will tell ereck would avoid guys. You gotta St.. When I when it falls on me, I'll have to go, I got fix it. Of the alleged year in there. I when I'm dead and gone. Don't never be about. He didn't wait could do. And that's have interest alone says two weeks ago in believe on guys have come to depend on me. What do you do around? Because the superintendent certainly never tell me. What do he listens? If I tell them this to go. I mean. I mean, that's how far comb boy president. They'll be hooking in the unionized. Somebody. You're not in union, right? You are saying I could there's nothing like here though. Yeah. So president by union hall. Again, it's all I can tell you go out. He 'cause I can striking about these tapes. Is that Steve sees himself on the side of good? He only does bad things to bullies. He says he hates bullies. And anyway, most of what he does like planting a bomb at the has of lower Ballade when he broke up with his local union, president aren't behalf a friends against people. He doesn't even know he'll do anything for friend. He says he's loyal that way. Even the guys who work for him. He says he lives for them all the time. Let's leave early or Bill for overtime. They don't deserve. Take your guy gone up three months. No time to book cave. I can go jail the things I do. I don't benefit one fit for me monetary oil or I benefit at knowing. What's and still they don't love him enough for he complains to keep that. He doesn't have any real friends at work tomorrow. Roll here that would. I don't like all going over copy of didn't say at anywhere. That's why would I can't stand plate. Keith he says is one of the two people in the world. He considers a true friend someone who live for him. If need be at their last meeting Keith ask, Steve if he can give him some explosives called quarter, sticks is a guy he wants to teach a lesson to Steve is so casually generous about it as if Keith is just asked him for a piece of gum. We really. No, I my last one comes out for road night, Steve Keith explosive he'd been storing behind a fake plant on top of his filing cabinet. And remember Steve's offices in a middle school. So through the wall. There are kids ten twelve thirteen years old. And the thing is just sitting there packed with more than seventeen grams of incredibly volatile flash powder. Three hundred times more powerful than the strongest commercially available firework that was on a Wednesday on Friday morning, cops warm the pen and arrested. Steve they had to along with Schenectady city school district is in jail without bail tonight. The facilities director is accused of setting off an explosion outside a house. Police say they also found explosives in his office on school grounds. Superintendent Eric ille- called a news conference the following Monday saying he was shocked shocked to find out Steve Rossi was. My reaction is shock certainly concern for the safety of our employees as well as our students many people I talked to said this enrage them that claimed ignorance about Steve's behaviour ille- politely declined to talk to me for the story. He's still facing lawsuits from former employees but gave an extended interview to the local CBS reporter Marsin atoll. He said he thought workers complaints have Rossi's tyranny were overblown. This have sexual problem with your really afraid of somebody. Why do you why do you work with him in his home? Why do you you know, riding the party's? Why do you ask him to get your your son job? You know, why do you ask favors of him? If you're frayed of him as for the people who came to for help like Adenola said, it wasn't his role to solve these problems in some people say that you didn't do anything. But you. You know, people are just lying. I won't be the scapegoat for somebody else was Stephen Rossy, your friend know, this is the same man who wrote there aren't many that. I trust you are one. Thank you. Elliot's now superintendent of district in south bridge, Massachusetts. Proc- was tried on twenty two felony counts. The prosecution had DNA evidence wire recordings called sixty two witnesses the defense had two and one of them was cross examined so affectively that ultimately did Ross his case more harm than good Rossi's lawyer Rondi Angeles didn't want to be interviewed on tape. But he said Rossi was very peaceful. Very quiet. Not at all how they were making him out to be practically maniac. His argument trial was essentially the Rossi was grand exaggerate or who like to take credit for things. He didn't do closing DeAngelis place brightly colored plastic eggs into a basket one by one and explain that each egg represented reasonable doubt and a chance to redeem it was Easter time he reasoned time of hope a time of renewal time that if you're a Christian and dead, you're gonna come back to life. Rossi was convicted on eighteen counts and acquitted for at the sentencing hearing Ross victims got a chance to speak to the court, Laura blog, Debbie, how gray and maintenance supervisor Ron Chris who'd had his car vandalized several times after filing sexual harassment lawsuit against eve the hadn't been physically hurt. But they're paying was pretty raw. Years my family, and I were terrorized are Stephen Ross, just imagine. If you will I will be for you to live in fear few south family, and you property twenty four hours a day seven days a week for five years at night. I don't walk past a window without thinking someone is looking at or open my windows to experience fresh air. I tried everything that I could to help those employees at the school district who were being tormented by him. But no one would help me Ned anyone in the union and on the school board. And then there is my son. This day. Will not sleep in his bed alone. Talks almost every day since the tech, and how could stopped it. From happening. Would violent actions. He would have been taken or could now take given the chance terrorism has had a dramatic impact on my relationship with my wife, it both have changed relationship strained easily. My wife's emotions have significant swings. And she's not the woman as I knew we developed our own plan for survival. When the alarm would go off. To the floor his bed, and he'd grabbed a loaded rifle from under the bed can eat. Go down scares. I would make the nine one one call from the cellphone. I never knew whether or not my husband would return because thoughts went through my mind of him bombing the front door or sitting our house on fire as we slept. Something he said he would do it was. For me. In front of his court. God. No forgiveness for this. It was it was really moving Carl struck the Daily Gazette columnist watched the trial to see how they went through this experience. It was fascinating you like to think you'd be different. You like to think that you know, that I would have done something different. If I'd been in that position. I would have stood up. I would have been righteous. But you know, you don't know until you're in that position. You sure some of the people who worked for Steve Rossi also thought they'd be different. They're were good people. They knew right from wrong. But they told me you had to be in it to understand Ellen Frederick said it was almost like being in a cult being brainwashed. Sentenced to spend twenty three years at the Clinton correctional facility a prison so far north so forbidding so antiquated. The journalists who visited there told me he expected Boris Karloff to walk in any minute Ross. He's working as a clerk in the prison. Commissary. He'll be up for parole in twenty thirty two when he's in his eighties Rossi's own father died in prison, and in the past Rossi had warned darkly that he'd never let that happen to him. See was never technically fired by the way. So he still entitled to his school pension eighty thousand dollars a year. Meanwhile, Schenectady cleaned house, the top per Rossi administrators are gone superintendent, Erkki Lee, Massachusetts, human resources director. Mike streak owes to Vegas. Mississippi tenant for business. Mike, San Angelo, still nearby, but his contract wasn't renewed. There's an interim superintendent now well liked educator and father of six from another district whose minivan incidentally, was set on fire in his driveway one night in nineteen Ninety-six Rossi wasn't questioned in that case. But Carney said he wouldn't be surprised if see had been involved. School board president Jeff gen zoo ski with shouted down by audience members at a couple of meetings and almost all the old board members, including Genesee ski or gone, either retired voted out replaced by self-described reformers, finally management of all CSEE union, locals in Schenectady county has been taken over by the region until further notice and at least six people have lawsuits, pending. When you see pictures of Rossi from the trial sitting there quietly at the defendant's table, it's hard to imagine that he caused this mayhem by himself. Then of course, he didn't he was surrounded above and below by people who look the other way, even Carl struck the newspaper columnist told me regretfully that he too had gotten complaints about Steve Rossi for maintenance workers in the past. But didn't really follow up. And it's understandable. Why their stories seem to small and bureaucratic not something? The rest of us would be interested in. Is now the host of cereal. He haven't heard season three is back to the criminal Justice system like season one, but goes so much further at serial podcast dot com. Wherever you get your podcasts in the into verse broadcast this story the SEA union locals in Schenectady county of all been restructured. All the officers were placed superintendent of schools there. Eric ily as a reported in her story got another job as a superintendent south bridge, Massachusetts. But since then since you did the story just three years into the job. He resigned after allegations of misconduct. One of the allegations against him that he trained to middle high school. Principal to be a bully not teaches math at high school in North Carolina. Several lawsuits filed by people who say they were victimized by Rossi. Some of the begins Steve Rossi, some of the begins the school district several of those settled and finally as I mentioned at the beginning of the show ten years after his arrest. Steve Rossi gave an interview. To a newspaper reporter Paul Nelson from the times union in Albany linked to his article at times union dot com at our website. And the interview apparently for the first time Rossi admitted guilt for some of his crimes, though, not the worst one. Laurels house. Yes. Did I'm put an eighty on somebody when she'll it Dr Gary Nolan. Yes. Okay. Yes. Okay. He said he and his wife talked a lot about whether he's a psychopath said he thought he wasn't because even when he gets all wound up. He said he doesn't think he loses control of himself doesn't snap across the line though. Of course, that's not the definition of psychopath. Rush had several times during the interview that he always knew that what he was doing was wrong. I will. I knew what of. And I knew I could get arrested for but. Swear gun with a give me a lightning -tective visit evident I thought the worst that could happen. Oh, yeah. I know I'm going to get arrested. But you don't go to prison property damage. That's what's going through undefended this property graffiti in the house don't paint on the car. I didn't think those prison senses. I didn't think that I could end up in a place like this over that. I mean, a met stupid. I wouldn't have done it. If I thought that was I actually chose the method. I drove because I got I could've for out that it was somewhat premeditated. I thought that was never heard anybody that was a dancer why was a car driveway while house. I never heard anyone many that rows he told the reporter that he's been diagnosed with prostate cancer. But he said he doesn't see the point in getting treated prolonging life in a maximum security prison. As. On. They will. By game. Vein is so big. They had to add and you add. They made you and by the pool. Program is produced today by Jane Marie and Syrah Canaan with Alex Bloomberg Benko who Jonathan Varley Cepal, Robin semi-in Elissa ship, and then she Updike additional production by view cornfield Jared Floyd still Nelson. Matt Tierney senior producer for today's program released Neider, especially thanks to dick shave whose apparent in school district. Schenectady who emailed us telling us about this story. Our website this American life dot org. Listen to any of our of over six hundred programs for absolutely free. You can download as many programs as you want using the this American life app. American life is to public radio stations by PR X, the public radio exchange sport for this. American. Life comes from air table, but documentary filmmakers, shot scheduler cattle, ranchers, cattle, tracker, fashion designers. Production planner all built with air table. Is it air table dot com slash American for special offer available to this American life listeners progams co-founder mystery mouth, not you know, he was so surprised. He was so hurt. When I told him, you know, like like, you're not my type I like Matthew, mcconaughey. Hey, you know, he's like, my type, you know, whatever. You thought that I just told him I put the knife right in his heart IRA glass back next week. We more stories this American life would get last hero is be. Heroes to be. You want to be hero with just? If you want to be he will will just follow me. Next week on the podcast of this American life. The Democrats on the House Judiciary committee one answers. The issue is if he refuses to answer legitimate questions that is why we want the Saudi annot that until he comes on aro. And he said he's called her. I'm speaking we don't know that running hot stakes are high. Our producers chased spent weeks behind the scenes with the Democrats as they plotted their moves that's next week on the podcast or new public radio station.