NYC Teacher Wins More Than $250,000 From New York City and the NYC Department of Education Gotcha Squad by Betsy Combier
I had the honor to assist David in this fight, and participate in helping him hold the NYC DOE Gotcha Squad accountable for their actions. It's been a long time coming, but the result is the right one, for David as well as many other teachers charged with misconduct in NYC and brought to 3020-a or Part 83.
Thanks to David's lawyers at Eisner & Mirer, and in particular Maria Chickedantz for excellent, dedicated work on this case!
Here is the backstory from David on why he was charged with 3020-a:
Background from David's Opposition to the NYC Law Department Motion To Dismiss his Article 75 Appeal to vacate his termination:
David had several charges when brought to 3020-a in 2012, but the most serious was a charge of fraud after he allegedly intentionally placed his daughter in an Upper West side school despite the fact that he did not give a permanent address in the district, an alleged violation of NYC DOE Chancellor's Regulations A-101. David's daughter entered the school in 2001, after testing into the school just like all the other students entering kindergarten. The only way a teacher can be charged more than 3 years after the event is if the event charged was a crime when committed. In David's case, he was never charged or convicted of any crime in 2001-2002, and this became the biggest error of the Arbitrator, Glanstein, in her award of termination for David after his 3020-a.
The burden was on the Department to prove that Petitioner deliberately wrote an address into his daughter's application for her middle school that was not correct in order to defraud the Respondent and knowingly put his employment at risk. There is not a scintilla of proof that these requirements to find evidence of fraud were present. At the time that Petitioner's daughter applied to her middle school, she was already in the public school system in District 3. In addition, the middle school Petitioner applied to for his daughter, Columbia Secondary School (CSS) required a test, which Petitioner's daughter took and achieved a score which enabled her to get admitted. Children the same age who got similar scores were admitted to CSS from addresses throughout New York City - i.e. Manhattan, Bronx, Brooklyn, Queens, and Washington Heights. There was no requirement at any time that students had to live in District 3.
In 2002 Petitioner was interviewed by investigators of the NYC Department of Education and was asked questions about the addresses he put on his daughter's application to her District 3 elementary school. At that time Petitioner had no permanent address, and his daughter's mother - who lived in the Bronx - did not have any input into the education of her daughter; Petitioner was solely responsible. Both parents resided in the New York City School District as defined under the Chancellor's Regulations. In order for Petitioner to give an address where he could keep in touch with mail from his daughter's school, he gave the investigators the address of where his daughter often stayed during the week - with her friend - as well as where he worked. He never heard back from these investigators and never received any reprimand for his "homeless" status before being charged and brought to 3020-a, where he offered Chancellor's Regulation A-101, limiting charges against a parent for residency errors to just 30 days from the time of application (Verified Petition Ex. 2).
In sum, at no time did anyone at the NYC DOE question Petitioner about his address since September of 2002, at which time he explained his circumstances to the officials at District 3. The investigation, he believed, was dropped. At no time until parent teacher conferences in February 2012 did Petitioner know that CSS had the wrong address for his daughter, who now lives with her mother in the Bronx just like many other students at CSS do. When Petitioner saw that the school still had the former school address of Petitioner's employment in February 2012, he tried to change this, but Petitioner could not obtain proof of the current address for his daughter from her mother. The school kept the address as is, Petitioner's prior employment. At no time prior to February 2012 did anyone, for 11 years, from the NYC DOE, give Petitioner Notice that he was allegedly "lying" to Respondent and that this would lead to charges of fraud and possible termination, and at no time did Petitioner intend to defraud the Respondent.
The conclusion that was reached by Arbitrator Eleanor E. Glanstein, namely that
"The evidence established that Respondent's daughter did not meet the residency requirements for admission to schools in District 3".... (Glanstein decision, p.33, Verified Petition EX. 1) was arbitrary, capricious, unconscionable and shocking because there was no residency requirements for CSS, and when his daughter was admitted to elementary school in District 3 Petitioner had no permanent address but gave this information to the school and the investigators, who accepted his explanation and the address he gave.
Glanstein finished her sentence with "...and Respondent knew she did not meet the requirements." (Glanstein decision p.33)
Who Glanstein was referring to as "she" is unclear. Was she referring to Petitioner's daughter? If so, this is not true as Petitioner's daughter knew nothing about this issue. Is Glanstein referring to Petitioner, and made an error of putting an "s" before "he"? If so, this is untrue as well, as Petitioner did not know that his daughter was subject to District 3 residence requirements that were being violated and that he could be charged and brought to 3020-a for not knowing this.
Similarly, Glanstein's statement that:
"Respondent knowingly and intentionally submitted fraudulent documents to his employer, the Department of Education, over a ten year period"(p. 33) was not a credibility issue but a factual error by Glanstein to deliberately terminate Petitioner without there being any law, regulation or rule to support her conclusion. Petitioner brought up the issue of laches in his Petition (see p.3) and relies on his defense given in his petition, namely that investigators had 30 days from the time of their investigation interview with him in 2002 (Chancellor's Regulation A-101) to charge him with fraud, give him Notice that he had to remove his daughter from her elementary school, or in some way give him Notice that he was committing "fraud" and could lose his job as a teacher because of it if he didnt fix this so-called "harm". No discussion, no final report, no conclusion was ever told to Petitioner until he was charged with 3020-a. Glanstein did not, therefore have the authority to punish Petitioner with termination on these charges submitted by Respondent in this matter.
Eleanor and her sidekicks, Attorneys Steve Friedman (NYSUT) and Nancy Ryan (NYC DOE) created quite a show for me as I watched them terminate so many teachers. Indeed, the teachers who were terminated always gave me her decisions and all of the transcripts, exhibits, etc., so I could really see the lack of evidence. In my opinion, Steve Friedman is the least competent attorney in the NYSUT roster. Nancy Ryan is not on the 3020-a circuit anymore, but she was the most insulting, least professional DOE attorney that I watched over the years 2003-2011. And then there is Eleanor Glanstein, always very polite to me and everyone else, but totally clueless about the UFT contract or Education Law 3020-a - at least, that is my opinion. One teacher charged with 3020-a went the first day of her 3020-a, told Eleanor that she would not be back due to the violation of her due process rights, and then got hold of the voucher that Eleanor submitted to New York State Education Department for $12,594.50. Not a bad salary for 1 1/2 days' work.
After David submitted an Article 75 Appeal to the Supreme Court to get the decision by Glanstein overturned, New York State Supreme Court Judge Alice Schlesinger agreed with David's argument, and vacated the Glanstein decision of termination. Judge Schlesinger wrote:
"David Suker has been a teacher for 14 years at GED Plus at Bronx Regional Referral Center and has attained tenure. With the exception of having been fined $1000 in 2011 as a penalty for excessive absenteeism, he has had no other disciplinary claims made against him. That was the case until December 21, 2011, when Robert Zweig, Principal of the school where Mr. Suker has taught his entire 14 years, decided that he wanted to terminate Mr. Suker. A hearing was held pursuant to Education Law § 3020-a and a decision was rendered approving the termination; Mr. Suker challenges that decision here....
the school's leadership did not want petitioner Suker to remain there as a teacher. They did not like him or approve of his actions. They believed he was insubordinate, that he did not conduct himself properly, that he was getting arrested too often, and probably that he was not a team player. It is possible that much of that is true. But with the exception of the two episodes involving disruptive students, which had occurred almost three years earlier in 2009 and had not resulted in discipline, no one has claimed that David Suker is not a good and/or effective teacher.
Finally, it should be noted that the conduct spelled out in Charge 3, regarding a false address for his daughter, never involved Suker's own school and never would have been discovered but for the DOE's decision to target Suker to see if an investigation could find something to be used against him, which it did. But that "something" should not be a basis for terminating this tenured teacher, for the reasons already discussed.
Accordingly, it is hereby
ORDERED AND ADJUDGED that the petition is granted to the extent of annulling those portions of ALJ Glanstein's decision which sustained Charge 3 and imposed the penalty of termination, and the matter is remanded to respondent for the imposition of an appropriate lesser penalty in accordance with the terms of this decision.
Dated: July 25, 2013
Judge Alice Schlesinger"
Then, in their desire to squash David Suker permanently, the New York City Law Department filed an Appeal to the New York State Supreme Court First Department, where David won again:
15398 In re David Suker,
The New York City Board/ Department of Education,
Zachary W. Carter, Corporation Counsel, New York (Julie Steiner of counsel), for appellant.
Eisner & Associates, P.C., New York (Maria L. Chickedantz of counsel), for respondent.
Order and judgment (one paper), Supreme Court, New York County (Alice Schlesinger, J.), entered August 23, 2013, which, in this proceeding brought pursuant to CPLR article 75, granted the petition to vacate a hearing officer 's award to the extent of annulling the portion of the award that sustained the third set of charges against petitioner and imposed the penalty of termination of his employment as a tenured New York City public school teacher, and remanded the matter to respondent New York City Department of Education (DOE) for the imposition of an appropriate lesser penalty, unanimously affirmed, without costs.
There is no evidence in the record to support petitioner' s claims that his due process rights were violated, since he was provided with the third set of charges more than 10 days before he offered testimony with respect to those charges, and he did not object to DOE's request for consolidation of all of the charges against him. Even though DOE did not specify the precise sections of the Penal Law allegedly violated, the allegations in the three specifications fairly apprised petitioner of the basis of the alleged misconduct (see Duncan v New York City Dept. of Educ., 124 AD3d 463, 464 (1st Dept 2015)).
Nevertheless, Supreme Court did not exceed its authority in finding that the third set of charges against petitioner was time-barred. Education Law § 3020-a(l) requires that disciplinary charges against a teacher be brought within three years from the date of the alleged misconduct, unless the alleged misconduct constituted a crime when committed. Petitioner was not required to raise the statutory time limitation set forth in Education Law § 3020-a(l) as a defense in the disciplinary proceeding. Where, as here, "a statute creates a right unknown at common law, and also establishes a time period within which the right may be asserted, the time limit is . . . a condition attached to the right as distinguished from a (s)tatute of (l)imitations which must be asserted by way of defense" (Lincoln First Bank of Rochester v Rupert, 60 AD2d 193, 196 (4th Dept 1977)).
Accordingly, DOE had the burden of establishing that it met the time requirement set forth in Education Law § 3020-a(l) or that the crime exception to the time requirement applied (see Matter of Aronsky v Board of Educ., Community School Dist. No. 22 of City of N.Y., 75 NY2d 997, 999-1000 ) . DOE failed to meet its burden. The record shows that the alleged misconduct, petitioner 's submission of false documentation to DOE in order to improperly obtain his daughter 's admission to DOE schools for which she was not zoned, occurred more than three years before DOE brought the third set of charges against petitioner.
Although DOE requested that the Hearing Officer take judicial notice of two sections of the Penal Law and repeatedly characterized petitioner' s conduct as ft criminal," the Hearing Officer never found that the conduct constituted a crime, and there is no basis for making such a finding. Accordingly, the third set of charges were time-barred.
As the DOE essentially conceded at the disciplinary hearing, the first and second set of charges against petitioner do not support the penalty of terminating petitioner 's employment with DOE. Accordingly, Supreme Court correctly remanded the matter to DOE for the imposition of an appropriate lesser penalty.
THIS CONSTITUTES THE DECISION AND ORDER
OF THE SUPREME COURT, APPELLATE DIVISION, FIRST DEPARTMENT.
ENTERED: JUNE 11, 2015
Then, the final ruling came on December 22, 2015 from Arbitrator Susan Sangillo Bellifemine, who threw Glanstein's termination away for good.
Thanks to NY POST and below that, my first post about David Suker's win on this website, Parentadvocates.org (9/30/2013):
City loses $1M bid to fire teacher arrested in Occupy Wall Street
By Susan Edelman December 27, 2015
The city has lost a four-year, $1 million battle to fire a teacher arrested in the Occupy Wall Street protests.
David Suker, a US Army veteran who taught at-risk youths in The Bronx for 14 years, was removed from the classroom in December 2011. He was charged with riling up students during an NYPD presentation at a school town-hall meeting by complaining he had been roughed up by cops, showing a scar on his head, and exchanging high-fives and fist bumps with teens.
Suker was also charged with failing to immediately report one of his five Occupy Wall Street arrests in Washington Square Park on Nov. 2. He notified the Department of Education three days after getting out of jail.
But now Suker, 47, has won his job back — and $260,000 in back pay.
“I’m no angel, but I’m also a great teacher and a loving father who believes in the founding ideals of this country. I’ve served in the military and I’ve served in public schools for these beliefs. I deserve justice, and I feel now I’ve been vindicated,” he told The Post.
Suker was terminated in August 2012 after the DOE hit him with additional charges of mishandling two unruly students three years earlier, and 11 absences deemed excessive. Suker was the only teacher in a GED program serving troubled students ages 17 to 21, many released from prison, and had an otherwise spotless record.
The DOE also had investigators secretly follow Suker’s 15-year-old daughter from her mother’s Bronx home to a Harlem high school, and interrogate her. Suker, a divorced dad, was accused of falsifying his address to enroll her in schools since kindergarten, although she passed entry exams.
Suker appealed his firing in Manhattan Supreme Court. Judge Alice Schlesinger tossed out the most serious charge, the record falsification, as years too late. She found Suker a good teacher who deserved to be punished, but not fired.
Last week, another arbitrator set his fine at $7,000.
But the case cost the city an estimated $1 million, Suker and his lawyers say. Besides the back pay, the DOE paid Suker for more than two years to sit idle, hired substitutes, and racked up extensive legal expenses.
“The time and resources that the DOE wasted to get a $7,000 fine is completely absurd and outrageous,” said Suker’s lawyer, Maria Chickedantz.
The DOE had no comment. A spokesman said Suker “remains reassigned.”
NYC Teacher David Suker Fought The Gotcha Squad - Department of Education in NYC - and Wins His Case in Court by Betsy Combier
From the desk of Betsy Combier:
David Suker taught for 14 years at Offsite Educational Services which transitioned into GED Plus, without ever being brought to 3020-a prior to the proceeding described here, namely the 3020-a arbitration hearing, which was brought against him by the New York City Department of Education in 2012. I knew David from the Rubber Room at 25 Chapel Street in Brooklyn, New York. I started walking into this room with David Pakter around 2004, and talked withteachers who were there and followed their stories (see Steve Ostrinand Polo Colon, for example).
David Suker was and is an excellent teacher and a cult hero among students. He was a leader of Occupy Wall street, and had a run-in with the police which became misconduct charged against him. He had the very unfortunate circumstance of taking NYSUT's offer of representation, and not hiring a private attorney. NYSUT Assistant General Counsel Claude Hersh appointed Senior Attorney Steven Friedman. Steve worked in a deadly partnership with Attorney Eleanor Elovich Glanstein and DOE prosecuting Attorney Nancy Ryan. Why do I call this threesome "deadly"? Because their goal was to terminate those people brought before them. See the case of Nicola De Marco). Recently, sources tell me, Eleanor Glanstein was fired or removed from the UFT-DOE Panel. Nancy Ryan and Steve Friedman were moved to other Arbitrators. Thank goodness this team was broken up. I was fortunate enough to watch the three of them for several years, and, most recently, see how Nancy Ryan destroyed a Department of Labor Unemployment Hearing in August 2013. More about that in a later post.
Eleanor Glanstein is a very small woman who shrugs off violations of law and contract. She dismisses Nancy Ryan, a constant screamer and hysteric, as part of the order of business. Everything Nancy says is what Eleanor writes in her decision at the end of the 3020-a. Eleanor had a lot of power and was able to get away with her irrational rulings because her brother Larry Elovich was a political Somebody out on Long Island.
The way the Ryan-Friedman-Glanstein termination process worked was as follows: Nancy Ryan would pursue any and all charges with a vengeance that left everyone in the room stunned. Her attacks are personal and vicious, and she continues now, only with a new arbitrator. There are no rules, laws, or contracts that she cares about. Indeed, these are always discarded as wrongly placed barriers to getting to the core of the case, namely, terminating a "criminal" (the poor employee/victim). Nancy must be a very unhappy person to be so malicious. All allegations against a person are "facts", which Nancy defends with her lifeblood. Steve Friedman basically plays along to get along. His defense is the worst of any NYSUT Attorney whom I have observed since I started attending 3020-a hearings in 2003-4. He has none. Steve presents some evidence, but he really would like his client to resign, retire, or go away. He permits, by doing nothing to stop her, Nancy's hysterics. While Steve sits there not doing much of anything and Nancy is screaming that the teacher/employee is criminally insane, Eleanor shrugs off Nancy but almost always terminates the charged employee. Eleanor refuses to concern herself with any issues of probable cause and procedural error. It is good that she is no longer on the panel. No one will miss her....except maybe Nancy.
David was brought up on three sets of charges, the first two sets were unsubstantiated and/or minor, but Eleanor Glanstein found everything charged was valid. Then Steve allowed Nancy and Terri Europe to bring forth a third set of charges about David's daughter's school to which she had been admitted more than 7 years earlier, and Eleanor consolidated this set with the previous two. Former Director of the Administrative Trials Unit, the Gotcha Squad, Theresa ("Terri") Europe, heard from Nancy that David had placed his daughter in an upper west side elementary school and then gave an address for himself which was not supposedly in the district (he did not have a permanent address at the time). According to A-101, the Department of Education had 30 days to investigate. David was not told of any investigation. By the time he was charged with 3020-a, his daughter was in high school, where residence did not matter. David's daughter's mother lived in Bronx the entire time. In other words, this issue was a non-issue.
3020-a charges may go back only 3 years, unless the act charged was a crime when committed. David was not accused of a crime when his daughter started school. Thus, when Nancy told Terri that she had discovered the misconduct of David ten years earlier, Terri told Regina Loughran, Deputy Commissioner of the Special Commissioner of Investigation (SCI) that she wanted an investigation of David, but this violated 3020-a law.
This type of targeting is a violation of law. Yet, Eleanor Glanstein, with Steve Friedman's permission, charged David with the "misconduct" and David was terminated for fraudulently putting his daughter in a school without living in the district of the school.
David asked us at Advocatz to help him appeal this decision. We gladly contributed. At 3020-a, the Department, "Respondent" , had the burden of proof, and failed to provide a minimum amount of evidence that could justify the determination of termination as a just and equitable award. Certainly there was a clear failure to provide "preponderance of the evidence", which is the required standard pursuant to Education Law Section 3020-a.
Glanstein's irrational conclusion was that Petitioner's acts were deliberately planned to throw his long and successful career as a tenured teacher out the window. In other words, Glanstein made a determination reeking of bad faith where she ignored the testimony of David Suker, "Petitioner", that he knew nothing about any residency requirement for Columbia Secondary, and that his satisfactory teaching performance showed he was an excellent teacher, to find that David inexplicably committed fraud on his employer. This made no sense. To be fraudulent, a false statement must be made with the intent to deceive the victim. And, the false statement must be made with the intent to deprive the victim of some legal right, and the victim's reliance on the false statement must be reasonable. Therefore, it would have been reasonable for Columbia Secondary School to question/investigate/address Petitioner's residency within the 30-day period cited in the Regulation, A-101, but not have the NYC DOE Office of Legal Services charge him five(5) years later.
When David filled out the admission forms to Columbia Secondary School for his daughter he gave the address at which he and his daughter were staying in 2007. He did not lie. No one from the school ever questioned him about this address, and the only requirement for the school admissions is that first consideration goes to those students who live above 96th street. Students in the school population come from throughout the New York City area. Here, David never intended any fraud. No misconduct existed then or now, and no notice was given to David about possible wrong-doing, so he could address the issue, until it was "too late", and he was charged by Theresa Europe with 3020-a.
Ms. Europe had no authority, as the Attorney for the Department and Supervisor of the Administrative Trials Unit, to charge David five years after Columbia Secondary accepted his daughter. David invoked the doctrine of laches. From Wikipedia: "Laches is an "unreasonable delay pursuing a right or claim...in a way that prejudices the (opposing) party." When asserted in litigation, it is an equitable defense, or doctrine. The person invoking laches is asserting that an opposing party has "slept on its rights," and that, as a result of this delay, circumstances have changed such that it is no longer just to grant the (Petitioner's) original claim. Put another way, failure to assert one’s rights in a timely manner can result in a claim being barred by laches. Laches is a form of estoppel for delay.
Ironically, while David was charged with filling out erroneous records for his daughter, the Department refused to give him the requested records of the students whose complaints in 2009 led to some of his charges. Here is an excerpt from the transcript:
"Mr. Friedman: Okay, Madam Hearing Officer, pursuant to your previous ruling, I now call for production of any counseling records, disciplinary records, attendance records and anything else that would have been from December of 2008 to April of 2009 and again, pursuant to your prior ruling, I reserve the right to recall this witness in the event that anything in those documents turns up to be material relevant in this case.
Ms. Ryan: I have already asked for those documents, that's what he got...That's the extent of what they have...Yeah, what do you think I asked for. You think I asked them to pick out three papers?" (Transcript, "T" pp. 127-128)
Mr. Friedman: "If I understand correctly, there's absolutely no record of that student being in the program then. Nothing. No test results, no applications, no records that she shows" (T146)
Hearing Officer: "I've heard you both...but I will not strike the student's testimony. The application is denied" (T146-147).
Mr. Friedman: " Then can I respectfully request then that the Hearing Officer take notice that we are very, very hampered in our defense?" (T147)
Glanstein didn't care.
But luckily, New York State Supreme Court Judge Alice Schlesinger did care. She threw out the third set of charges about David's daughter and her admission to the West Side school, and remanded back to the Department for a penalty that was less than termination. Schlesinger mentioned Nancy Ryan in her decision:
"However, in the two-month period between the dates that Mr. Suker was informed of these two Charges, a related but somewhat unusual communication occurred. Nancy Ryan, the attorney prosecuting the matter for the Administrative Trials Unit of the Office of Legal Services (ATU) contacted Theresa Europe, Deputy Counsel to the Chancellor for the
NYC Department of Education, and gave her “interesting” information relating to Mr. Suker’s daughter which Ms. Ryan had noted while preparing the case.*
...Ms. Europe ended her letter: “Can you open an investigation? We are scheduled to start trial but I can try to put it off if your office will investigate. Let me know and thanks.”....The findings from this investigation then formed the predicate for the final Charge, notice of which was sent to Mr. Suker on April 20, 2012, after the 3020-a hearing had begun...I thus find that all of the acts in this Charge, in all three Specifications, are time-barred; because the conduct has not been proven to specifically constitute a “crime when committed,” the acts fall outside the three-year limitations period for disciplinary charges under § 3020-a."
Last week, the New York Law Department filed an Appeal with the Appellate Division. David remains off the payroll until the resolution of this appeal.
See more about Regina Loughran below:
Law and Disorder: Special Victims Unit
Investigators say the city's independent schools watchdog has often failed to bark
Tom Robbins, Village Voice, December 06, 2005
Back in 1997 police arrested a man named Ronald Taylor, who worked as an assistant public school principal in Harlem. Taylor, 50 years old at the time, easily ranked as a parent's worst nightmare. His arrest came after the mother of a student walked into a local police precinct and reported that Taylor had lured her 15-year-old son to his apartment with an offer to play with his video game collection. He then proceeded to sexually molest him. When cops went to investigate they found Taylor had tricked up his West Harlem apartment as a kids' game room. They also found some 400 X-rated videos.
Unlike a score of school-personnel sex-abuse cases from that era, Taylor's arrest got little news play. The Times ran a short item on an inside page and the Daily News carried one as well, on page 79. The lack of attention was partly because the arrest did not emanate from the efficient publicity machine of Edward Stancik, the late special commissioner for investigation for city schools.
For 12 years until his death in 2002, Stancik's gaunt features were a staple on TV newscasts as he told of corrupt bureaucrats and twisted sex abusers nailed by his office. Such cases made Stancik wildly unpopular in the teachers' union offices and the old Board of Education headquarters on Livingston Street in Brooklyn, where he was viewed as a merciless inquisitor, a publicity hound whose investigations were measured mainly for their TV and news-ink potential.
On the other hand, many politicians, journalists, prosecutors, and parents adored him, viewing Stancik as a valiant warrior against an intractable bureaucracy. So what if he knew how to use the media? What better way to send a message to the public and bad guys alike that wrongdoing won't be tolerated? When Stancik died at age 47 of heart failure in March 2002, there were some misgivings expressed about his occasional overzealousness. But the editorial call was to make sure the watchdog office he'd led didn't lose its fangs.
But a few months after Stancik's death, something unusual in the world of law enforcement happened. A former top investigator in his office, an ex-detective who had been a supervisor there for five years, sat down and wrote two lengthy letters to city officials alleging that a top Stancik deputy named Regina Loughran had dropped the ball in several important cases, either delaying arrests or letting the bad guys get away altogether. In some instances, it was alleged, Loughran had changed cases from being "substantiated" to "unsubstantiated."
The complaints were investigated by city attorneys, and several were confirmed. Yet Loughran today remains as powerful as ever, serving as the $151,000 number two official in the special investigators' office. Former and current investigators, both men and women, who spoke under condition of anonymity, told the Voice they were puzzled by the inaction. "If we had caught someone in the education system behaving this way, they'd be long gone," said one former investigator.
Among the cases the investigators cited was that of Ronald Taylor.
According to the former detective and others familiar with the case, nearly a year before Taylor's arrest by police, investigators in Stancik's office had asked permission to launch a probe of the school official. The request was made after a prison social worker contacted the investigations office to say that an inmate was claiming to have been sexually abused by Taylor, his former teacher. Investigators initially dismissed the charge as one more prisoner trying to reduce his sentence. But the details of the story were disturbingly precise: Taylor had asked the student, then 15 years old, to carry a crate of milk up to his apartment. Once he got him inside, Taylor had sexually assaulted him. The inmate described the apartment in detail.
Investigators drove to upstate Green Haven Correctional Facility to interview the inmate, who convinced them that a sexual predator was loose in the schools. The statute of limitations had expired on the earlier assault, but the inmate said he was willing to wear a recording device to a meeting with Taylor to see if he could get him talking about other victims. The investigators relayed that offer to Loughran, then the attorney-in-charge of the child sexual-abuse unit and a key figure in the office. Loughran refused.
"The issue for her seemed to be, 'Why spend the time and money to get this kid out of jail and wire him up for a case that's too old,' " a former investigator told the Voice. "We argued that if we have this one person there are probably others out there at risk."
Loughran was adamant. But the investigators, most of them retired NYPD detectives who lived by chain of command, declined to appeal the decision over her head. The case was closed. Nine months later, the outraged mother of another victim filed her complaint with police. Taylor was immediately arrested and later sentenced to serve up to three years in prison. Under questioning, he said something that chilled both cops and school investigators. He said he was HIV-positive.
Ed Stancik's public posture was of a manager with a stern "the buck stops here" policy. But according to the former detective and others, the often ailing commissioner ceded wide authority to Loughran, a hardworking former sex-crimes prosecutor whose ability to turn out clearly written reports was highly prized by Stancik and his successor.
Investigators said Loughran was also often tempestuous, given to sudden rages and sulks. What made their jobs most difficult, however, was her apparent skittishness about dealing directly with outside prosecutors who were needed for any criminal referrals. "She just seemed intimidated or something," said one veteran ex-detective who worked in the office for years. "If we had a tape we needed to get to the D.A. she would have you drop it off with the officer in the lobby, rather than make a call to the prosecutor personally."
As a result, the investigators said, the case of the predatory assistant principal was just one of the instances in Stancik's old office where the system simply broke down.
There was the case of the art instructor accused of having displayed nude photos of himself to disabled students, confiding that "what a girl wants is a big dick." (The photos weren't found, and Loughran decided the students' testimony was "problematic," ordering investigators to change their findings from "substantiated" to "unfounded." When Board of Ed administrators asked for investigators to testify against the teacher to bar him from further employment, Loughran refused to allow it.)
There was the 48-year-old male teacher who admitted driving a 17-year-old female student to a funeral home parking lot in the Bronx and asking her, "What if I told you I wanted to go down on you?" (The teacher said he was trying to help her learn to fend off improper advances. The principal vouched for the teacher, and the girl later admitted she'd neglected to say they were also drinking beer at the time. Loughran said her testimony was inconsistent and ordered the case dropped.)
And there was Paul Kerner, a 61-year-old teacher at Sheepshead Bay High School who romanced an 11th-grade girl, taking her to Atlantic City casinos and a motel where he coerced her into performing fellatio and other sex acts. The investigator on the case urged Loughran to make a quick criminal referral to prosecutors, but the deputy balked. "I don't know what to do, let's hold off," she said, according to a report of the incident.
The office dithered so long that the victim called the investigator, complaining that Kerner was now stalking her, and asking why he hadn't been arrested yet. The investigator asked Loughran for permission to take the case to a friend at the FBI. Loughran expressed skepticism that the bureau would be interested, but reluctantly agreed. But when the FBI came seeking the backup documents for the case, Loughran balked again, forcing agents to get a grand jury subpoena. (Kerner was eventually convicted in federal court, where he received a 33-month sentence. Annoyed at the investigator who had called the bureau, Loughran allegedly had him transferred out of the sex-crimes unit.)
Yet another disturbing case posed an investigative challenge, one that Stancik's former detectives readily accepted, given the stakes, but which Loughran flat-out rejected. In that instance, a former city high school student, now a grown man and a member of the Army Reserves, called the office to say that his former principal had repeatedly sexually abused him a few years earlier. According to his story, he had been a fatherless youngster whom the principal had taken under his wing, bringing him on camping trips to Lake George and elsewhere where he had repeatedly molested him. On the advice of his therapist, the man had decided to confront and report his abuser. Once he did, the principal immediately resigned.
The Stancik investigators were able to get a consensually recorded telephone conversation in which the principal admitted his sexual abuse of the former student. Like the Ronald Taylor case, however, the acts were too old to prosecute. But investigators said the ex-principal (a Boy Scout troop leader who still lived with his mother) fit the profile of "a classic pedophile," and they believed he had to have preyed on others.
The next step, they proposed to Lough-ran, would be to wire up the ex-student and have him meet with the former principal to see if they could pick up leads on other victims. They would also talk to teachers and students at the principal's school to find out if other boys had been similarly "befriended." Loughran wouldn't hear of it. According to two former investigators, she said, "He is out of the system. Shut it down." (Loughran has denied using those words.)
In an effort to try to breathe new life into the case, one of the investigators reached out to a federal prosecutor he knew who was familiar with sex-crime statutes to ask if there was any other law the ex-principal might have violated. Loughran later said she was "upset" and "embarrassed" by the call, which she said duplicated her own research and had been made without her permission. Investigators said it was much more dramatic than that. "She was livid," said one of them. When the investigator was asked why the call had been made, he responded: "Because I'm trying to catch the son of a bitch."
According to the investigators, Lough-ran retaliated by shifting one of the two probers who had worked the case, considered one of the office's most productive teams, out of the sex unit. Loughran later insisted the assignment change had been made by Stancik, not her.
But it still wasn't over. The former principal, concerned at possible civil liabilities, offered to purchase a $250,000 house for the victim in exchange for a promise not to pursue further legal action. When Loughran learned of the offer, she allegedly said that the victim might be arrested for extortion, a suggestion that appalled the investigators. (As it happened, the deal fell through.)
"He had been a principal for 20 years, he had such power," said one of the investigators recently. "All he had to do was find another weak kid. We felt there had to be other victims. It was so egregious to shut it down. Pedophiles don't do it once and then go home. You don't have to be Columbo to figure that out."
The two letters detailing the complaints about the bungled past cases landed on the desk of city department of investigations commissioner Rose Gill Hearn in early 2003.
Hearn technically oversees the schools investigation unit (its offices are located in the same Maiden Lane building as DOI), but because of its sensitive mission it operates largely independently. Still, Hearn took the complaints seriously, assigning a pair of senior attorneys to look into them. Over the course of several months, the attorneys interviewed 10 current and former employees of Stancik's old special commissioner's office, including Loughran. During the interviews, the attorneys turned up another instance, in which a complaint about a Bronx teacher accused of sodomizing several young male students had been confirmed by the Stancik office but had somehow never been referred to prosecutors.
Those findings were in turn forwarded to Stancik's successor, Richard J. Condon, a former police commissioner who in the past headed investigative squads for the Manhattan and Queens district attorneys. When Condon took over in June 2002, he retained Loughran, bumping her up a notch to first deputy commissioner. A DOI spokesperson, Emily Gest, said the office hadn't ordered any changes or discipline for Loughran, but had "shared the facts and findings of its investigation, for Commissioner Condon to take any necessary remedial actions."
Condon said that he too took the complaints seriously, spending hours wading through old investigative files. "I was not a witness to this history," he said. "Most of these things happened years before I got here."
The standard he used in examining the cases, Condon said, was whether Loughran had had a "rational basis" for her decisions. In two instances—that of the art instructor who had shown the nude photos, and the teacher who had posed the obscene remarks to the student—Condon said he disagreed with Loughran's actions, but cautioned that even this conclusion was "probably unfair."
As for the failure to make a criminal referral in the Bronx sodomy case, Condon said the explanation was simple. "She screwed up. It happens." He noted that the office had handled a total of 1,800 cases during the period under review. Loughran also later told DOI's inquiry that she was "baffled" how she had failed to make the referral, but said if she was to blame so were her former bosses, Stancik and Robert Brenner, who served as Stancik's first deputy commissioner. (Brenner, now with the investigations firm Kroll Inc., did not return calls.)
At the end of the day, however, Condon said he chalked up the complaints to honest disagreements. "I am used to investigators and prosecutors arguing over whether cases should be prosecuted," he said.
Condon told the Daily News' Kathleen Lucadamo, who asked about the probe last month, that he considered Loughran "one of the straightest, most hardworking prosecutors I have ever worked with."
He told the Voice that he'd encountered none of the erratic behavior by Loughran described by the investigators. "I have been here three and a half years working next door to this woman and I have never seen the behavior these people describe," he said.
In a letter to DOI, however, Condon said he had changed office procedures to make sure he personally reads all complaints that come into the office and examines "every substantiated and unsubstantiated case."
Loughran, who declined to speak to the Voice, wrote Condon a lengthy defense of her actions, insisting that her decisions at the office had been "common-sense based and not capricious by any rational standard."
The investigators, past and current, remain unconvinced. "This isn't just disagreeing over cases," said one. "Yeah, there's always tension [in other investigative offices] between the investigators and the prosecutors. But it's always motivated by respect, and everyone understands they're a team. Here, you don't get that. And they're supposed to be about helping the kids."
Too Hot to Handle
How a crooked congressman got a pass from school probers
by Tom Robbins