Why Did New Rochelle Board of Education Hire Accused Drug Dealer in 2005?

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NEW ROCHELLE, NY -- Leonard Ricci, 31, was hired by the City School District of New Rochelle on August 2, 2005 to work as a Laborer in the Buildings and Grounds Department at Cliff Street despite a 2003 arrest for drug dealing and drunk driving, among other charges. Charges in the case were reduced in December 2005 and Ricci was given 5 years probation and his license was suspended.

At the time of his hiring by the school district, however, the original charges were still on his record, according to documents obtained under a Freedom of Information request.

Under the New York State SAVE Law, since 2001, all new school district employees are required to undergo a criminal background check. So, how did Ricci get hired in the first place?

While the answer is not certain, Talk of the Sound is reliably informed that Ricci was a known acquaintance of James Vincent Bonanno. Commonly known as "Little Jimmy", Bonanno is another school district employee. Bonanno is known to be a heroin addict, currently enrolled in the Westchester County Methadone program.

Little Jimmy has also been arrested.

Nicholas Cantiello, a spokesperson for the New York State Department of Motor Vehicles, …states that Bonanno was charged with driving while impaired in May, 2005. Police records indicate that Bonanno was arrested on April 9, 2005 and convicted of Operating a Motor Vehicle While Intoxicated First Offense on April 15, 2005. He paid a fine of $300 and his license was suspended for 90 days…The Bonanno drunk driving case was sealed by a New Rochelle judge but Talk of the Sound has learned that Bonanno had a .11 Blood Alcohol Content at the time of his arrest, well over the legal limit of .07 for a regular drivers license.

Vincent James Bonanno, Little Jimmy's father, is the supervisor of the school district's Cliff Street facility.

Ricci worked for the New Rochelle Board of Education as an hourly employee for over a year, from August 2005 until September 2006, earning $16.18 per hour plus benefits.

Ricci was arrested on October 8, 2003 on four charges related to drug dealing and driving while intoxicated.

Shortly before 3:00 am on the 8th, Police Officer Craig Wolf observed Ricci driving on Brookside Place in New Rochelle. Ricci drove through a Stop Sign at the intersection of Brookside Place and Sidney Street.

When Office Wolf approached the vehicle there was a strong odor of alcohol. Ricci was not wearing his seatbelt. Wolf later stated that Ricci's eyes were blood shot and his speech was slurred.

When asked to produce his drivers license and registration, Ricci told Wolf the cops took it from him a while ago. He produced a drivers license which had been revoked and a registration for the vehicle that was void.

Ricci badly flunked a field sobriety test and was informed he was being arrested.

When Ricci was frisked, Wolf found two Percocet pills in Ricci's pocket. When asked if he had anything else on him, Ricci told Wolf he did not know. By then other officers had arrived on the scene.

A search of the vehicle turned up 81 more Percocet pills, a glass vile of Lidocaine HCI Epinephrine, and two blister packs marked ACTIQ each containing one lollipop with "ACTIQ and "1600" on the medicated end and "ACTIQ Fentanyl 1600 Meg" on the other end.

Percocet is a combination oxycodone and paracetamol and a schedule 2 narcotic under the Controlled Substance Act, regulated by the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency. The Percocet pills contained 10 milligrams of oxycodone hydrochloride and 325 milligrams for acetaminophen per tablet.

Lidocaine is often added to cocaine as a diluent. Cocaine numbs the gums when applied, and since lidocaine causes stronger numbness, a user gets the impression of high-quality cocaine when in actuality, the user is receiving a diluted product.

Actiq is known as "morphine lollipops" and "perc-a-pop", and sells for between $5–25, depending on its dose. It is a schedule 2 narcotic under the Controlled Substance Act, regulated by the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency.

Ricci's Blood Alcohol Content tested at .14%, double the legal limit, according to police records.

Ricci was charged with Aggravated Unlicensed Operation of a Vehicle, Operating a Motor Vehicle with BAC over .10 (DWI), Operating a Motor Vehicle Intoxicated First and Criminal Possession of Controlled Substance.

Ricci's Black 1997 Volkswagon GTI was impounded.

Ricci was sentenced to 5 years probation and his license suspended. The records were sealed on December 20, 2005.

EDITOR'S NOTE: Both Bonannos have filed criminal complaints against me (both dismissed by police) and a defamation lawsuit (currently working its way through the legal process).

Commenting on this Blog entry is closed.

Brian Sussman on Fri, 07/05/2013 - 22:10

The US Supreme Court Decision, NY Times vs Sullivan, 376 U.S. 254 (1964), will protect you from the defamation suit, as long as you thought your reporting was based on accurate information, even if you were mistaken in that regard.

New York Times Co. v. Sullivan (No. 39)
273 Ala. 656, 144 So.2d 25, reversed and remanded.

http://www.law.cornell.edu/supct/html/historics/USSC_CR_0376_0254_ZS.html

I cannot understand why a plea bargain conviction, resulting in probation, would end up with a sealed record, other than, perhaps, if Leonard Ricci had turned states evidence against another individual.

But a 5 year sentence of probation would seem to indicate a conviction of felony, as a Class A Misdemeanor would tend to result in 3 years probation.

Any decision should be based on a conviction but it would be unjust to fire a person simply based on an arrest. If the nature of conviction remains unknown to the NR BOE, they would have no moral choice, but to dismiss him.

Robert Cox's picture
Robert Cox on Sat, 07/06/2013 - 15:07

For me, there are three questions:

1. Is the school district actually doing the criminal and sex offender background checks required under the NYS SAVE Law?

2. If there is a "positive" result from the background check, are they excluding that person from consideration?

3. If there is a "negative" result from the background check but a "positive" result from a news search (i.e., LexisNexis, ProQuest, Dialog, Google, etc.), are they excluding that person from consideration?

These are all questions about new hires.

There are additional questions about existing employees.

More to follow on this issue; this is just the first in an arc of similar stories to come.