Former Board Members Among those Illegally Taped in Suffern Central School District’s Serious Breach of Executive Session

Former Board Members Among those Illegally Taped in Suffern Central School District’s Serious Breach of Executive Session

Senior District Administrators Reportedly Were Aware of Allegations About a Pedagogical Predator; Bad Behavior by Others is Starting to Be Exposed

Based on information received from a District employee, letters went out to past SCSD Board members informing them that their private Executive Session deliberations and conversations had been surreptitiously recorded going back at least to the 2017 school year.  We have been asked to not specifically name names of alleged perpetrators at this time. 

On May 16th during a Special Meeting, the Board announced that there had a been a serious breach of Executive Session and that internal and external investigations were taking place. The statement read into the record specifically said: “A serious breach of Executive Session confidentiality has been identified.  An internal and external investigation shall take place imminently.  We cannot discuss this any further tonight.

The following day, May 17th, a Board member was spotted at the Rockland County Courthouse and it was thought that they were going to meet with the District Attorney’s office.  We reached out to the DA’s office via email and have not received a response.

Sources have revealed that there were as many as three listening devices planted in the room where the Board meets to conduct Executive Sessions. At some point, a computer was removed from this same room, possibly after the breach had already been discovered however this has not yet been verified.  The individual who removed the computer was caught by the District’s security cameras and was questioned.  Allegedly this individual initially denied involvement before eventually coming clean and apparently revealed that there was a listening device hidden in the computer. Despite numerous inquires, we were not able to determine how the District found out about the recording devices, exactly where they were hidden or specifically what type of devices were used.

During the Winter months, the Board had requested that Dr. Adams sign a CoSer agreement in order to engage the services of the Putnam Northern Westchester BOCES Corporate Screening and Investigative Group to perform Cyber Security Analysis.

Apparently Adams refused to sign the CoSer agreement because on February 25, 2019 at a Special Meeting, the Board had to vote to Authorize Board President Dr. Amany Dgheim to sign the agreement.  Board members Dgheim, McKenzie, Reimer and Cairns voted to authorize Dgheim to sign the agreement, Board members Kern, Shapiro and Donnelly voted against the proposal.  It’s thought that this agreement and the subsequent Cyber Security Investigation may have uncovered the breach of Executive Session.

The District utilizes G-Suite for Education.  There are two versions offered by Google, a free version and a paid version.  Regardless of which version is used, they both offer the following features:

  • eDiscovery for emails, chats, and files
  • Retention and archiving for Gmail and Hangouts
  • Audit reports to track user activity

The Enterprise addition adds in a number of additional features including a Security Center and a Security Investigation Tool.

Everything done by users is tracked and archived meaning that even if documents and emails are deleted and the computer or laptop is wiped clean, an audit trail exists in the cloud.

If there were requests to have recordings transcribed and if the transcriptions were emailed, there is virtually no way of getting around the security features built into G-Suite as well as a variety of other tools that are commonly used during cyber security investigations.

When it comes to recording conversations, New York is a one-party state meaning that one party, including yourself if you are a party to the conversation, must consent to being recorded.  In other words, it’s perfectly legal for a party to a conversation to record their conversation without notifying the other party that they are being recorded.

Under New York’s wiretapping laws §§ 250.00 and 250.05, it is a Class E felony to record or to eavesdrop on a conversation unless one party consents. As a result of these serious allegations past and present Board members could potentially bring civil actions against the District and anyone else involved. The seriousness of this breach should not be underestimated.  Surreptitiously recording Executive Session takes the one party law to an entirely different level as there is a definite expectation of privacy and even if one party consents, it’s still illegal.

It is not known exactly how many others may have been involved in the breach of Executive Session by the planting of recording devices or by transcribing of the recordings as this information has not yet been released by the District.

Allegations Surfaced Months Ago, Prior to Suspension of Dr. Adams

On January 27th an individual employed by the School District reached out with an incredible tale of the existence of a three ring binder containing transcripts of conversations taken from Executive Sessions held by Suffern Central School District Board members.  At the time I thought nothing of it thinking that they were probably documentation of the polling that often takes place.

A week later the same individual reached out again, this time stating that there were transcripts of Executive Session conversations and according to a third party, also employed by the District, the Board’s deliberations about Dr. Adams’ contract extension were thought to have been compromised.  The contract, which was extended for two years by former Board President Teresa DiFalco and four Board members approximately 17 months before it was set to expire, was discussed and deliberated in Executive Session with Adams understandably out of the room.  The contract extension was ultimately agreed upon and extended in February of 2018 with Adams apparently receiving increases in base salary, the District’s contribution to his deferred annuity and the proviso that he must live in the District was lifted.

It’s not known if those responsible were able to listen in on the deliberations in real-time or if they had to wait for recordings to be retrieved and transcribed at a later time. Regardless of how this was done, it represents a serious breach of public trust. It wasn’t until this individual read some of the transcripts to me over the phone and the information was verified on Board Docs did I realize that this was a real issue.

On February 12th of this year, in response to someone else’s comment, and almost a month before Dr. Adams was suspended by the Board I posted online that there was a breach of Executive Session:

“There is a great deal of bad information floating around mixed in with outright lies.  Last year, SCSD Executive Session information was definitely leaked, that part is a fact.  The incorrect part being proffered out there is who was leaking it. The most important issue is the safety and security of all children in the district.”

Speaking of all children in this district, the same source shared with me that there was indeed a written warning about the pedagogical employee who was put on administrative leave earlier in the school year and who is now on paid suspension for alleged inappropriate conduct involving students.

In 2017, it has been alleged that this pedagogical employee engaged in inappropriate contact with a student.  When the student graduated and turned 18, it has been alleged that a physical relationship took place between the pedagogical employee and the former student.

In November of 2017 is has been alleged that a parent in the District told a senior administrator about the alleged grooming of this student by the pedagogical employee and the inappropriate physical relationship that followed.

Based upon the extensive Title IX investigation launched by the District in February and the report that was read by the District’s Title IX attorney at the School Board meeting on April 2nd, it was revealed that inappropriate conduct had been brought to the attention of administrators but that investigations of those allegations had not been carried out to completion.  This essentially substantiates what I was told by this employee two months previously and possibly before the Title IX investigation commenced.

I was then informed of a “memo” that included a written warning about this same pedagogical employee.

It’s not known whether this “memo” is in the form of an email or in written form however, I was told that it was sent from an attorney for the District to a senior administrator and that it specifically warned that there were issues with this specific pedagogical employee.

On June 19, 2018 the board voted unanimously on the Professional Personnel Report which among other things, approved the Winter Specific Extra Duty Assignments for coaches and assistant coaches.  The pedagogical employee is question was on the report.

Fast forward to September of 2018, two Professional Personnel reports were combined into a single item.  This report included stipends for long-term substitute teachers, coaches, department Chairpersons, music and performing arts programs, clubs and more. This item and the following item, an addendum were pulled from the consent agenda by School Board member Matthew Kern.  (Additional items were pulled by Ms. Reimer however they are unrelated) The Board voted on this item and the motion passed with five Board members voting in favor and two abstentions.  Matthew Kern’s spouse was listed on the report and Angus McKenzie was also listed so their abstentions made sense.

The interesting part came next.  There was a completely separate item, an Addendum to the Professional Personnel Report. This addendum dealt specifically with the appointment of the Pedagogical employee who was later put on administrative leave and was subsequently suspended with pay.

This individual and the coaching position could easily have been included on the previous Professional Personnel Report.  In fact, this individual WAS included on the previous Professional Personnel Report however not in a coaching position involving female students.

That this individual was fine for one position but singled out as a coach of a female sports team on an addendum, and added as a completely separate agenda item and the item was pulled from the consent agenda raises eyebrows.  Matthew Kern voted “no” and Paul Shapiro abstained.  What changed during three months, two plus of which were summer months that caused two Board members to disapprove of this appointment?  What did they know and why weren’t the other Board members made aware of the previous allegations?  We have no way of knowing if this was discussed in Executive Session.  This pedagogical employee has allegedly gone on to engage in inappropriate conduct with additional female student(s).  A FOIL request submitted to the Ramapo Police Department and covering a specific time period was denied as an “unwarranted invasion of personal privacy” meaning there is something there but it can’t be released.

Past Sins May Come Back to Bite The District in the Pocketbook

As The Journal News highlighted in an article in April that had to be amended three times in order to correct glaring errors, the District is the defendant in a Federal Lawsuit as a result of the alleged bullying of a child.  The Journal News published the lawsuit without redacting any identifying information that might shield the child’s family name.  When questioned about this, Aisha Powell, LoHud’s Education reporter justified her actions by writing “…the lawsuit is available online for anyone to see and a parent in the lawsuit has openly spoken about his grievances with the district at public meetings no facts were ever ignored as we covered all information presently available to the public in previous articles and this one We refer to FOILs, just like you to receive information on solar panel deals from a school board member to an administrator.  We don’t just do a great job, we fact-check it!! …”

In March, 2019, Aisha Powell FOIL’d campaign contributions to candidates last year, and nothing more.  What she failed to mention is that in the lawsuit, the Plaintiff referred to the intimate relationship between then Deputy Superintendent Stephen Walker and RP Connor principal Kelly Benadi (Kelly Dowd) three times as one of the reasons why their complaints were not acted upon.

The lawsuit was filed on May 18, 2018.  The District filed their response to the lawsuit on June, 11, 2018.

The response was obviously written by the attorneys for the District.  Adams, as Superintendent, is ultimately responsible for the contents of the District’s response.

The response to the three paragraphs referring to the intimate relationship between Walker and Benadi (Dowd) was the same all three times:

“Denies all allegations, statements, and inferences contained in paragraph 108 (164 & 165) of the Complaint herein.”

The issue for the District is that these responses are outright lies.

In an email to Jay Worona of the New York State School Boards Association dated October 27, 2017, Dr. Adams specifically stated “My Deputy Superintendent and one of elementary school principals are dating.”

Walker, who is now the Superintendent of Schools in the Sullivan West Central School District also admitted as much when he filed a complaint against the father of the bullying victim with the Mahwah Police Department.

Stephen Walker claimed in the police report that the father of the student was following him. In the complaint he specifically stated “…that he is the Vice Superintendent of the Suffern School District and that he is dating the principal in the middle school…”. The father then proceeded to obtain video footage from two local businesses located on Franklin Turnpike showing that Walker followed him into Suffern. (Walker was the Deputy Superintendent and he was dating the principal of an elementary school)

When Walker accepted the position as Superintendent in Sullivan West a letter was sent out to SWCSD parents he also mentions Benadi (Dowd) as his “significant other.”

Three documented mentions of the relationship that the District denied/lied about in their response to the federal lawsuit.

As for “fact-checking” that has come under scrutiny as well.  The Journal News claimed that Dennis Dale, the grandfather of the bullied child was the owner of a solar panel company in New Jersey that was trying to get the SCSD Board to steer business his way.  It turned out to be nothing more than part of a smear campaign.

Dale has never owned a solar panel company. He rents office space from a man who does.  We contacted Michael McGeary, the gentleman who does in fact own the solar panel and energy consulting company in New Jersey.  He was not aware of the falsehoods published by The Journal News, stated that Dennis Dale had not ever been an owner or partner in his company but had been a tenant for a number of years. He went on to state that he had attended a breakfast meeting at the Stateline Diner last fall that included SCSD Board member Don Cairns and SCSD employee John Palma who is now  in charge of Buildings & Grounds.

Dr. Adams was aware of and consented to allowing the District to participate in this meeting as referenced in emails that we have obtained.

The District invited McGeary to a subsequent meeting in Hillburn.  McGeary provided the District with advice on what the District could ask for from any potential solar company they sought to do business with at no charge.  He has not submitted a proposal for any business with the District.

The Journal News apparently checked two online databases, Manta.com and Buzzfile.com in order to verify Dale’s ownership of the company in question. They also said that they called and left a message for Dennis Dale at the number listed on the website and that Mr. Dale did not respond.  Mr. Dale didn’t respond because he doesn’t own the company.

A representative from Manta told us that anyone could create a business listing but wouldn’t tell us when the listing had been created while Buzzfile did not respond to requests for comment.

Dun & Bradstreet however told us that the fake listing had been created in mid-March, 2019.  Dun & Bradstreet has since deleted the fake listing.

Timeline:

  • The “solar panel” meetings took place in the fall of 2018
  • A fake busines listing stating that Dennis Dale was the owner of the Solar Panel Company was created in Mid-March, 2019
  • Possibly March 17, 2019 (actual FOIL says 3/19/17) Aisha Powell of The Journal News FOIL’s School Board Campaign contributions going back to 2010.  Based upon FOIL’s of LoHud’s FOILs Powell falsely claimed to have FOIL’d the solar panel emails.
  • April 11, 2019, Aisha Powell reaches out to Andrew Dale regarding an interview because he’s a vocal member of the community.  No mention was made of solar panels and his father’s alleged ownership of the solar company. Dale declines to be interviewed.
  • April 16, 2019 Former SCSD Board President Theresa DiFalco claims that a “partner in a security company is an ex-partner of (SCSD Board member) Angus McKenzie” and there is also a solar company that has been solicited by Angus, by (SCSD Board Member) Mr. Cairns who has a friend who is the principal of this solar company. He has not only pushed and pressured staff members to deal with this solar company, he has also said that he voted for the teacher’s contract so he needs this contract with the solar company deal to go through.” These claims were not true.
  •  April 24, 2019 The LoHud story is published.  Among other things, the story regurgitates the fact that Andrew Dale was arrested in 2008.  Although the story mentions that Dale settled with the Town for $559,000, it fails to mention that the Rockland County District Attorney’s office dropped all charges as a result of the accuser lying on the stand during the trial.  The story also fails to mention that the accuser tried to recant three times and that Dale was rehired by the Town before resigning. LoHud falsely claimed that they FOIL’ed the solar panel emails.
  • District employees openly shared the LoHud article which in turn victimized the child yet again.  The District responded by stating that’s this was “free speech” that was outside of their jurisdiction.  In 2018, a District employee was disciplined for a “free speech” post on Facebook.

SCSD anti-Semitic Election Mailer Account Found, Investigation Continues

The recent SCSD Board Election took a rather nasty turn with unfounded rumors and outright lies being spread about the two female candidates who ran.  Some residents received an anti-Semetic flyer with blatantly false allegations that attempted to tie the female candidates to the Kid’s First Board members who were elected last year and the father of the bullied child who helped to finance their campaign.

One side of the flyer had an image of a newspaper clipping about Dale’s previous arrest which also has a photo of his co-accused, a Hasidic man who was also exonerated.

The other side of the flyer started with a headline stating “Do you want the Suffern Central School Board Run By Individuals from the Outside?”  This strongly implied that the Religious Community would be pulling the strings.

The mailer went on to include a paragraph from the article about Dale’s previous arrest before continuing with “Does this sound like individuals we want running our school district from the outside?”

It also included the fact that Dale had contributed to the Kid’s First campaign which is not a crime if it’s disclosed as it was. The flyer then ties the Kid’s First Board members to President Amany Dgheim and then ties candidates Jeanette Kunow and Cheryl Valenti to Dgheim and wraps it all up by stating that “These Outside Individuals pushing for Valenti/Kunow now? (Sic).”

The addresses were done in “ransom note” style in that they were cut out and then taped onto the letter.  These letters were apparently only sent to residents who displayed Kunow-Valenti yard signs in front of their properties.  The clearest postmark that we received had May 20th listed.  Apparently the culprits expected the mailers to hit on Election Day however they were a day or two late and are now some wasted dollars short.

Interesting enough, it’s where and who the image used on the flyer allegedly came from that is as striking as it is shocking.

It only took us about 30 minutes to track it down and twenty minutes of that was spent obtaining a hard copy of the flyer.  The clip used on the flyer came from an online database and the individual responsible left a very sloppy, easy to follow electronic footprint.

Unlike the fake account that was set up in mid-March of this year and which was used to falsely accuse Dale’s father of being tied to a Solar Panel Company, evidence shows that the individual involved started clipping articles 15 months prior to the downloading of the clipping used on the flyer and that much of what they clipped included references to a specific individual and Suffern High School sports going back to at least April of 1980. The user name used for these articles is a match for the email account of the individual mentioned in many of the articles.

What’s even more troubling is that this individual who at first glance appears to have been involved has a history of alleged abuse having been the subject of a federal lawsuit for allegedly throwing a student athlete to the ground and then allegedly black-balling him from making a team the following year.  There are additional allegations that this individual has gotten physical with other student athletes.

What’s worse is that the incident, if it’s proven that the image came from their account, appears to be retaliatory in nature and could cost the school district plenty as this person is named in The Federal lawsuit against the district.

This information was supplied to Suffern Central School District administrators who didn’t deny this individual’s involvement but they declined to follow up citing “citizen speech.”

We reached out to this individual and they claimed to not know anything about anything.  Nothing about the Dale family, nothing about the issues that Andrew Dale had almost 11 years ago, and in fact the response was “I have no clue what you’re talking about”,

When we revealed where the clipping came from we were told “I have no idea what you’re talking about.”

They claimed to not have been aware of the flyer.

When it was explained that the flyer defamed Cheryl Valenti and Jeanette Kunow they asked “Who are they?… I don’t know them, I’ve never met them.”

Based on this conversation and the denial of any and all knowledge of where the clipping came from, this individual is essentially claiming that someone may have created a false account, using the same name that this individual uses as what’s known as the local part of their email address, which also includes the initials of this individual’s children, opened the account about sixteen months ago, clipped articles containing mention of this individual by name going back to April of 1980 and clipped the exact clipping used on the flyer.  It should be noted that this account is the only account to ever clip and download the article used on the flyer.  It was clipped on May 8, 2019.

Documentation and billing information have been subpoenaed by the plaintiffs attorney and should reveal who is really behind this alleged fake account.  Based upon the fact that the Business listing that claimed the Dennis Dale was the owner of the solar company was a fake, the name of the individual who appears to be the owner of the account that clipped the article is being withheld until the documented results come back.

It remains to be seen if the federal judge will view this conduct as  “citizen speech” or retaliatory behavior. If it’s the later, the District may be on the hook for a 6-7 figure settlement.

Members of this Board have been brutally & publicly defamed and maligned at meetings & online and have had their motives questioned for taking decisive action to protect students in this District.  A family member of one Board member has reportedly been ostracized by colleagues as a result. People with agendas and/or no direct knowledge of what’s been happening and the issues that have been swept under the rug have engaged in vicious rumor mongering, made false allegations and have posted defamatory statements.  By breaching Executive Session, the public trust has been irrevocably broken.  Past and present Board members, students and residents deserve better.

While the Suffern Central School District is blessed to have many kind, caring and professional educators and administrators, there are students in this District who have been victimized; there are students who are afraid and there are students who have been not only been denied justice, they have been denied their right to a safe, secure  learning environment due to the actions of a few. They deserve better as these students are indeed Mounties too.


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