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New Rochelle Board of Education: Criminal Enterprise Masquerading as an Educational Institution - Part XV

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New Rochelle Board of Education: Criminal Enterprise Masquerading as an Educational Institution - Part XV

March 03, 2015 - 15:07
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This is Part XV in a Series.

I have been writing about an investigation of allegations of corruption in the City School District of New Rochelle by Vigilant Resources International, a top-flight investigations firm hired by then-Interim Superintendent Dr. Jeffrey Korostoff last spring. The decision to hire VRI came about after Korostoff spoke with Brian Conway of the Public Integrity Bureau of the Westchester County District Attorney’s office. Korostoff told Conway of the corruption allegations; Conway told Korostoff to hire a PI firm and provide files on 3 persons suspected of corruption. Dozens of people were investigated, surveillance was done, records pulled and evaluated and yet after Schools Superintendent Dr. Brian Osborne was hired and Korostoff retired the momentum for making a criminal referral ground to halt.

In December, Jimmy Bonanno and Anthony Raffa were suspended for 30 days with pay. In January, when the 30 days expired, the pair were put on administrative leave and three other people were brought in to meet with Assistant to the Superintendent for HR, Joe Williams and Jeffrey Kehl, the district’s attorney. Little Jimmy Bonanno, Louis Apicella and Werner Greafe were accompanied by Marty Daly of FUSE and Eric Marshall, a union attorney.

Last week, four of the five were notified of disciplinary action against them. Anthony Raffa received a suspension with 30 days no pay and a referral to a Section 75 hearing. Jimmy Bonanno received a suspension with 30 days no pay. Louis Apicella received a suspension with 15 days no pay. Little Jimmy Bonanno is to be docked $100 pay. Werner Graefe got nothing. I expect it to be even worse. I believe Jeff Kehl will intentionally lose the Raffa Section 75 hearing and that he too will be reinstated. Kehl has been telling the board and administration that no one should be fired because there is not enough evidence to uphold an appeal in a successful Section 75 hearing resulting in the termination of an employee. What better way to to prove that than to bring what he is surely describing as “our strongest case” and then lose that case. Kehl can then claim that having lost the best case it proves the district could not have won any other cases.

Of course, this is entirely absurd. The purpose of hiring VRI was to turn over information to law enforcement so they could do a full, proper and independent investigation. The City School District of New Rochelle does not have a criminal investigations capability, they do not have subpoena power, they cannot arrest anyone, they cannot indict anyone and therefore they cannot flip anyone with offers of immunity. In short, the district does not have any of the tools necessary to build corruption cases, and work their way up the ladder to people like John Gallagher and John Quinn — and wherever else that might lead. And that’s the point, right? They got rid of Gallagher and Quinn (even allowing them to remain for many weeks, giving them ample time to shred documents, alter documents and otherwise cover their tracks — and this DID happen).

What we have here is just another example of how the district operates — they want to be able to say: “We hired a PI firm, we got rid of Quinn, we got rid of the Aramark management team, we brought several employees up on charges and disciplined them”. This is intended to obfuscate the central fact that VRI was hired because the DA recommended it as a first step towards opening a criminal investigation into corruption in the district that involves millions of dollars stolen on the watch of the New Rochelle Board of Education and that no such criminal referral was ever made. In reality, no one has been held accountable and the money is gone.

Contrast this non-outcome with the words of New Rochelle Board of Education Members last spring when, on April 22nd, the Board of Education adopted the proposed 2014-15 school district budget. The vote was 8-1 with Board Member Jeffrey Hastie the lone no vote against adoption.

Jeffrey Hastie said he could not support the budget not due to what the budget stands for but because he, his fellow board members and community members had not received answers to many questions raised during the Budget Review Process and that Assistant Superintendent for Business & Administration John Quinn had failed to address serious concerns about overtime, inventory management, restoration of programs cancelled in past budgets, the status of the new labor contract and more.

Rachel Relkin expressed "grave concerns" regarding "certain aspects of the budget, especially on the operations side" and confidence that Interim Superintendent Dr. Jeffrey Korostoff will take a "hard look at some of these issues that have recently been highlighted and that appropriate action will be taken. In my opinion, it is incumbent on the board to create a climate where accountability is expected required and delivered to our community.” Rachel Relkin added, "I would like to thank Interim Superintendent Dr. Jeffrey Korostoff for setting the tone for this budget season with the Superintendent's message back in February." Relkin was referring to Korostoff's statement on "Buildings & Grounds Abuse.” Hastie seconded Relkin's remarks on Korostoff.

Interim Superintendent Dr. Jeffrey Korostoff said: “We are keenly aware of the concerns which have been raised publicly about potential abuse within this sector of our operations. The installation of GPS devices in District vehicles was an initial step in monitoring the productivity of our workers. The institution of a time management system for our employees is a further step that we are now prepared to discuss during upcoming negotiations.

Lianne Merchant acknowledged Relkin's concerns, saying “I’m actually looking forward to the the new found the the the revenue we will find as we continue to to you know comb through the aspects of the budget regarding the inventory and the expenditures regarding the reduction in overtime on some of the things that were mentioned earlier.”

Deidre Polow addressed the issue of missing financial controls under Assistant Superintendent for Business & Administration John Quinn, saying “During the budget meetings I questioned the lack of inventory and suggest that this be done sooner rather than later and I am requesting a timetable so the board can monitor implementation. It's important in addition that stringent controls be upgraded and added to insure that monies are wisely spent on the education of students and not wasted because of incompetence". Polow admitted her own culpability “I was also part of the missteps", said Polow who went on to express her expectation that the financial irregularities under Quinn will be "corrected after investigation and discussion". Polow went on to thank each member of the cabinet by name but omitted John Quinn.

I think it is fair to call this a typical New Rochelle Board of Education Whitewash. For those who care to, I suggest you go back and watch some of the board meetings last spring and contrast them with where things stand today. The Orifici Report showed that at least two contractors (possibly more, Jeffrey Kehl is STILL stonewalling my FOIL request from January 5th) overcharged the district, and one of them agreed to pay back $50,000 yet no effort had been made to audit other invoices submitted by Wager Construction and G.R.W. Plumbing. The VRI report covered at least 22 district employees who were engaged in all manner of corruption and yet just four are being disciplined and three got what amounts to a slap on the wrist.

Oh, and by the way, I reported that Bobby McLean, a security guard at New Rochelle High School with a long history of pursuing and having sexual relations with students at the school was suspended for 30 days. He returned to work this week.

This goes to show that Jimmy Bonanno is reported to have said about attempts to hold him accountable is true — nothing ever happens.

Cox wrote things about me. Nothing fucking happened. John Quinn tried his bullshit and nothing happened. John G. says his shit; nothing happened. I don't give a fuck. What could the Board of Ed do to me? Come on, I got 35 years in this. The worst thing they could do is get rid of me. Who cares? It ain't happen yet.

During his deposition, Bonanno talked about how the district “never” fires anyone. He is right, if you work for the New Rochelle Board of Education you can rape children in your office and you will not be fired, you can rob the place blind and not be fired, you can choke teachers and not be fired, you can assault someone and put them in a coma and not be fired, you can sleep on the job and not be fired, you can watch TV on the job and not be fired, you can put ineligible students on your sports team and not be fired, you can make all sorts of hateful racial comments to staff and students and not be fired, you can approve payments for large sums of money for work that was never done and not be fired, you can share nude photos of children online and not be fired. Jimmy’s right. It is just about impossible to be fired as an employee of the New Rochelle schools.

This came during the depositions in the Bonanno’s defamation case with regards to a district employee who was bounced around the school district form job to job because he was violent — that he often screamed and yelled that he was going to kill people and, in at least two cases, is alleged to have assaulted district employees, including Jimmy Bonanno.

Jason Hilton wrote a letter addresses to “whom it may concern” but copied to John Gallagher, John Quinn, and Richard Organisciak:

Feb.7, 2012

To whom it may concern,

It has come to my attention that it is best that I write up my side of the story of a conversation that took place yesterday, February 7th, 2012 between me and Jimmy Bonanno. I arrived at work that morning and saw Jimmy sitting in his truck talking with Eric [Landrine]. I politely walked over and said good morning and asked Eric if I could please speak with Jimmy in private for a minute.

I told Jimmy that he knew he hurt my feelings and that he knew what he said to me was wrong. I also told him that I spoke to John G. [Gallagher] last Friday because of his comment, asking me if I really belonged to "that bullshit", being a Jehovah's Witness. I never made a big deal about it. That's what I told Jimmy, but he said he doesn't remember that. I said that if I was lying, " let calamity fall on me and my family". He changed the subject real quick, saying that I went to John G. and told him that there are a lot of corrupt things going on out here. I didn't deny that.

He said that he "didn't give a fuck who I told. Cox wrote things about me. Nothing fucking happened. John Quinn tried his bullshit and nothing happened. John G. says his shit; nothing happened. I don't give a fuck. What could the Board of Ed do to me? Come on, I got 35 years in this. The worst thing they could do is get rid of me. Who cares? It ain't happen yet. Whatever I tell these guys out here to do, they do it."

I told him that with all due respect, "yes, you are the boss, but there are still rules and regulations. Jimmy, come on." He said “fuck it" and that if we're going by the rules, I left early for overtime. Once again, being cordial, I told him that I worked seven hours straight without a break or lunch. I didn't complain when he told everyone to come back to the shop at 8 pm and sit around for an hour and then leave. I told him my job was done and I'm a diabetic and went home. Jimmy said I put the same time as everyone else. I said "come on Jimmy, Jehovah's my god. I'm smarter than that . Money doesn't mean that much to me" and told him to check the time sheet again. I put down 1-8pm, no lunch, no break. He said he didn't look at my time sheet and I asked was he serious. He got a bit angry and said that he wasn't arguing with me anymore. I told him that we weren't arguing, but that it was okay and tried to just leave it there.

Afterwards, this conversation bothered me all day. While doing my work, I heard that we can't have lunch at the shop anymore, but instead in the truck. People were told to not hang around me, so I called John G. and told him all that happened and I said that he knows how Jimmy is; he's like a big kid. It's already starting to get worse and before it gets really crazy, I said something needs to be done.

I don't need all this stress, so here I am telling my side of what happened yesterday. Like Jimmy said however, the board will, probably do nothing, but I just want the truth to be heard. I hope, pray and trust that no matter what, the Board will do the right thing. I trust in Jehovah that this will happen. Thank you for your ear and your time.

Jason A. Hilton

Cc John G., John Quinn, Richard Organisciak

 

Jason Hilton was the subject of depositions with both Jimmy and Little Jimmy.

Deposition of James Vincent Bonanno by WVOX attorney.

September 18, 2013

Q. Look at the last page of this particular exhibit. This is dated March 16, 2012. Letter addressed to you from Mr. Reza Kolahifar. Do you know who that person is?

A. Yes.

Q. Who is that person?

A. The assistant to the superintendent.

Q. Superintendent is the top guy in the Education District, right?

A. Yes.

Q. And the letter says, "Please meet with me in my office on Tuesday, March 20, 2012, at 10 a.m. to discuss issues that occurred on Thursday, March 15, 2012. "You are entitled and I encourage you to be accompanied by a representative from the New Rochelle Federation of United School Employees (FUSE)." Did I read that accurately?

A. Yes.

Q. What was the incident on March 15, 2012?

A. I don't remember.

Q. It was about a year and a half ago?

A. Okay.

Q. Yes?

A. Yes.

Q. And you have no memory of this?

A. No.

Q. Did you meet with Mr. Kolahifar?

A. I don't remember.

Q. Were you accompanied by a union rep?

A. I don't remember.

Q. Is there a family problem with memory, do you think?

MR. SANTORI: Objection. You can answer if -- you can answer.

A. I don't know.

Q. Is it you don't know or you don't remember?

A. I don't know.

Deposition of James Vincent Bonanno by WVOX attorney.

October 11, 2013

Q. At the last session, we looked at a document that was in Exhibit VJB8 [sic]. And I believe it was the last page or that -- no. Now I think I misspoke. Let me see. It doesn't appear to be 8. Let me see what it was. Sorry. I think it was probably 7. And the last page -- and you may remember -- you can look at it, if you want. Do you remember that document?

A. I don't -- I don't remember ever getting it, seeing it.

Q. I think you testified that you had a meeting with this person. Didn't you so testify?

A. No, I'm pretty sure I said I don't remember ever getting the letter.

Q. All right. Your prior testimony will be what it is. Did you meet with Mr. Kolahifar at any time?

A. Yes.

Q. Did you meet with him in March of 2012?

A. I don't remember, but if that's the date, yes.

Q. All right. What was the meeting about?

A. I was a witness to an altercation between this guy Jason Hilton -- he doesn't work for the school district anymore. He was threatening my father and a few other guys at the shop and he went irate, crazy, threatened to kill him. And then I had to say my side -- I had to say my side of the story because I was a witness to the altercation.

Q. Okay. You remember that now, but you didn't remember it at your last deposition; is that correct?

A. I didn't remember that because I don't think I got that letter. I never received it. They just called me up and said to come up there. And they must have put that letter in my file assuming I got it or I would get a copy. But I never did.

Q. Who was threatening your father?

A. This guy Jason Hilton.

Q. Was he -- did he work for the school district?

A. Yes.

Q. In what department?

A. He was in the -- a couple of schools before as a laborer. And he's a head case, so they kept moving him around. He was always getting in trouble. So they put him down at Cliff Street thinking he would change, but he didn't.

Q. They assigned him to your father?

A. To the buildings and grounds.

Q. Of which your father is foreman -- correct?

A. Yes.

Q. Okay. So they -- I didn't get his name. What's his name?

A. Jason.

Q. What's his last name?

A. I'm not sure if it's Hilton or Wilton. I'm not sure of the exact --

Q. Okay. And you were at Cliff Street when this gentleman, loosely using the word, was threatening your father?

A. Yeah, he was threatening my father and everybody else that was there.

Q. And your father in particular or just everybody?

A. My father and this guy. And he was mentioning the other under foreman there as well.

Q. All right. What did he say to your father?

A. "I'm going to f'ing kill you." "What are you guys doing?" I'm going to -- just kept screaming "I'm going to f'ing kill you."

Q. Do you attribute any of that to anything written by Mr. Cox?

A. What do you mean?

Q. Do you attribute this man's threats to your father as being a response to anything written by Mr. Cox?

A. I don't know.

Q. For anything that might have been said on my client's radio station?

A. I don't know what he was thinking.

Q. So your testimony is that that meeting had nothing to do with an automobile accident that you were involved in?

A. No.

Q. It was not?

A. No.

Q. Okay. So why would Mr. Kolahifar want to talk to you about a car collision that you --

A. Because Jason Hilton's car was parked on Birch Street --

Q. Uh-huh.

A. -- during the day. And when he came back to the shop at 3:00, he seen that his side mirror was clipped or hit. And he automatically blamed somebody from Cliff Street. And when I pulled in at 3:15, 3:00, I was there to witness him yelling and threatening everybody.

Q. So you think Mr. Hilton thought that this person had intentionally damaged his vehicle?

A. I don't know. But the way he was yelling, he thought -- I think he thought Sal did it.

Q. Is that who he was yelling at?

A. Well, Sal wasn't there. He was yelling at him "I'm going to get him, I'm going get him."

Q. And also you said -- did you say that he was going to kill him?

A. He said -- yeah, him and my father.

Q. What did your father have to do with it?

A. He was there and waiting for the guys to come in. And Jason was yelling him, "You better get this fixed; Which one of you f'ing guys hit my car; tell Sal, your boy, to get down here; I'm going to f'ing kill him."

Q. Okay. But he thought -- so just to be clear, he thought Sal did it, but he was angry with your father as well; is that --

A. He was angry at everyone. He was yelling, irate, you know, walking around. And he kept coming back to him, because I guess he's the boss and he wanted -- and he goes just fill out a form; you know, if it happened on school time, if any of us hit your car, we would tell you; we don't do that around here; it doesn't pay for us to lie or do anything about it; we would, you know, tell you the right channel to go through with it. And he just didn't want to hear it. He was going crazy.

Q. So what happened to this guy Jason Hilton?

A. I think they called him up to resident. I heard he cursed out city hall staff members.

Q. Okay. Is he still working for the district, as far as you know?

A. No, I don't think so.

Q. What was the last you heard of Jason Hilton?

A. That he -- nothing. That he just drives around New Rochelle.

Q. Did you hear that he was involved in any kind of activity recently that resulted in the police being called?

A. I don't remember.

Q. Do you think that Jason Hilton was a dangerous person?

A. Yeah.

Q. Why?

A. Because of how he acted that day. And I heard incidents up at the high school, that he -- this is just what I heard, that he grabbed the teacher's throat because she took her -- she took his kid's cellphone.

Q. His own child's cellphone?

A. Yeah.

Q. He had a child in the school district?

A. Yeah.

Q. Are you aware of any other times that he physically assaulted anybody?

A. Yeah. He struck my father.

Q. He struck your father. When was that?

A. I don't know the exact day. I think in the summer maybe.

Q. What's your understanding of what took place there?

A. I just heard it was -- he just walked up from behind and I guess started screaming and shouting. And I think my father said, relax, you know -- you know, I'm shopping, get out of here, or something. And he went to continue his shopping  with the shopping cart, and as soon as he turned around, he sucker-punched him in the neck.

Q. We'll get a chance to ask later about the rest of that incident, but that covers that.

Deposition of James Vincent Bonanno by Robert Cox, Pro Se.

October 14, 2013

Q. So let's jump over to Jason Hilton. So we heard that there was some incident where he was screaming and yelling that he was going to kill people at Cliff Street; do you recall that?

A. Yes.

Q. Is this somebody that you were happy to have working for you?

A. Let's put it this way, I opened my arms for the guy after all he went through in the district, threatened people, choking teachers they said. They have nowhere left to put him, they stuck with whim me. I gave him the benefit of the doubt. I tried to treat him nice. When his grandmother was sick, the superintendent said it is my discretion whether you want to let him leave. If they work through lunch and you want to let him leave a little early, it would be under my discretion. So with Jason to try to, you know, win him over, I tried to be nice to him, and then one day he came in and said he's going to kill me.

Q. But he did more than that though, right? Eventually? Correct? He -- did he assault you recently?

A. Yes, but he didn't assault me the way my son told you because my son didn't know the real story.

Q. Okay. Well tell us the real story?

A. I was in Stop and Shop getting a couple of boxes for the shop coffee machine, the K cups. I had my head down at the self-check out machine, he snuck behind me, I never seen him, he actually snuck around the candy and the gum and cold cocked me with his right hand with all his might, and they got it on camera and he admitted it.

Q. And was he arrested?

A. They didn't arrest him for eight days. Same detective. Was the detective I had with you, and then when they arrested him they only charged him with harassment.

Q. Why is that? Do you know?

A. I don't know. It is clearly on the video. He sucker punched me with all his might.

Q. Yeah. Okay. So you were at the Stop

A. It is hard to get fired.

Q. It is hard to get fired?

====

Q. So are you aware that Jason Hilton wrote a letter about you to the Board of Ed?

A. No.

Q. Did you ever have an order of protection out against Jason Hilton?

A. I never had an order of protection, I filed a police report a while ago that he threatened to kill me, and I filed my own report with the school district, and that's when they took him out of my department. They played with him for like a week at City Hall, and he cursed everybody out, he threatened Mr. Kolahifar, he said he knew where he lived, he'd get him. He'd slam doors. He told everybody to go F' themselves and then all I was told they let him resign and they give him, like, four or five or six months pay.

Q. Maybe like $35,000 in severance?

A. I don't know, it is, like, rumored.

Q. So I asked this a while ago, may

====

Q. And but you have a history with Jason Hilton, correct, would that be fair to say?

A. No, I don't.

Q. But he threatened to kill you; correct?

A. That's because he threatened to kill everybody in the school district and they stuck him with me, and I told you I tried to be nice to him and he still threatened to kill me.

Q. So he did threaten to you kill you?

A. Yes.

Q. And you knew of all these other incidents that he had before coming to work for you and after; correct?

A. Yes.

Q. So would you consider Jason Hilton somebody who is dangerous or unstable person?

A. I'm not a doctor, but I believe if they would have, maybe, reprimanded him or wrote him up or disciplined him, maybe he would have never got to me. I don't know. I don't know what goes on in his head.

Q. Do you think that when he hit you, at Stop and Shop, that he knew who he was hitting, that he knew it was you?

A. Yes, and he didn't give me no warning. He snuck up behind me.

Q. So would it be fair to say that he came over to you with the specific intent to assault you in your mind, do you think that's about right?

A. Absolutely. It is on camera. You have a tall muscular 35-year old sneaking up behind a 59-year old man, sucker punching him. I would think you would be looking to do harm to this person. I've been in and out of the doctors for weeks now.

Q. You know where he lives?

A. No.

Q. Do you think he followed you into the Stop and Shop?

A. I don't know.

NEXT: New Rochelle Board of Education: Criminal Enterprise Masquerading as an Educational Institution - Part XVI

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