By Nathan Mayberg
MONTICELLO August 26, 2005 Sullivan Countys case against its Department of Public Works employees accused of a vast array of misconduct took an awkward turn this week with two extremely short disciplinary hearings at the Sullivan County Courthouse in front of management and labor relations consultant Michael Wittenberg of Westchester County.
The latest a one-hour session held for suspended Director of Parks, Recreation and Beautification Richard Caraluzzo resulted in warnings from Wittenberg that Sullivan County Attorney Sam Yasgur will be expected to bring forth witnesses and evidence at the next hearing, October 12.
Phil Nicoletti, the suspended Director of Operations and Deputy Commissioner of the DPW, will resume his hearing September 28 in what his lawyer, Jonathan Lovett, pledged would be a circus of witnesses.
Both Nicoletti and Caraluzzo were suspended with pay but are now back on the payroll. New York State Civil Service law requires that they be put back on the payroll after two months.
For the first time, the county has released the charges against Caraluzzo. One of the newest allegations is that he took a county boat from Lake Superior State Park for his personal use and benefit and removed it to his home in Milford, Pennsylvania.
He is also charged with two break-ins at the countys personnel office before the working day, along with Nicoletti, former Commissioner Peter Lilholt, and Airport Engineer Bob Trotta (in one instance). In 2002, they allegedly took confidential documents related to a countywide survey of employees meant to determine county policy about pay raises.
Those files reportedly include those of former County Attorney Ira Cohen, Commissioner of Financial Management Richard LaCondre and Commissioner of General Services Harvey Smith.
Last year, they allegedly took the confidential notes of Assistant Personnel Officer Carolyn Hill, who had interviewed DPW employees about perceived harassment and other allegations made against the top brass of the department by former crane operator James Donelli.
Caraluzzo himself is accused of making several of the copies and has been identified by Lilholt in public testimony as having done so.
Winters has been named by the county with participating in the break-ins. But there have been discrepancies as to whether she actually entered the office. The county located a number of photocopied documents in her desk and closet.
She has been on paid administrative leave since April.
Winters and Caraluzzo were both called to the stand but did not answer any questions at the instruction of their attorney, Jonathan Lovett. Lovett said his employees have been threatened by Yasgur and Albany County attorney Mary Raoch (who led the initial investigation) with never being able to work for the county again and implying criminal prosecution.
Yasgur himself said during the hearing that Caraluzzo participated in an act of burglary by breaking into the personnel offices when the DPW employees used their master key, which was only meant for emergencies.
The county has charged Caraluzzo with engaging in misconduct by attempting to obstruct an investigation by the county through his meetings and conversations with Winters. They are also alleged to have worked with Lilholt and Nicoletti in preparing a list of allegations against other county employees they say acted improperly. They then allegedly met with Sullivan County Legislator Kathleen LaBuda and threatened her with going to the press about an affair her brother, Desmond Wisniski (a DPW employee), was having if she did not help save their jobs.
It is not clear whether Yasgurs case has been hampered by the fire which destroyed his office after the first hearing on the case in June.
He walked away from questions after Wednesdays hearing.
The criminal investigation into that fire is currently ongoing but is reportedly moving very slowly. the hearings are being held at the courthouse while work continues at the Sullivan County Government Center to repair the hearing room and the offices damaged in the arson attack.