Charges in Kelley-Busin case up to state attorney

CLEWISTON — Stephanie Busin reported to her fellow Hendry County School Board members on Tuesday, Jan. 15, that she’d been informed the sheriff’s investigation she pressed for last fall over harassing hate mail sent to her home has been completed.

The results, she said, have been given to the State Attorney’s Office for the 20th Judicial District, which will decide whether charges will be filed as she requested against the person identified as a suspect through fingerprints lifted from the mailed materials. That person is Hendry County Deputy Schools Superintendent Lucinda Kelley.

“They are going to decide the trajectory from this point forward,” Mrs. Busin said. School Board member Jon Basquin asked at Tuesday’s meeting whether the state would contact the board and let members know what’s happening. Superintendent Paul Puletti said the office would contact Mrs. Busin since she is the complainant.

“I called to see what’s the timeline on their decision, and of course it’s like everything else: when they get to it. If at any time, the board wants to say go ahead and get this investigation started that we promised, we can go ahead and start that, if you want to, before. I don’t have any recommendations,” said Mr. Puletti. He began in December to look for outside firms to perform an independent internal investigation into whether Ms. Kelley had written or delivered any of the unsigned letters and packages during work hours, and has been working with private attorney Mike McKinley.

“Personally, I’d like to see what the state attorney comes up with first,” said Mr. Basquin.

Mrs. Busin responded: “The way it’s going to go, to the best of my knowledge, is that the state is going to look at everything, all the information, and decide whether they can bring charges. If they take that route, the information is going to remain sealed so they can work through their process of prosecution; if not, then the information is all going to be public.”

She added that she’d make sure everyone could see it if that’s the case. “There have been a lot of things that I have not revealed because I have been waiting for Mr. Puletti to do the right thing,” Mrs. Busin said in a recent interview for background information.

She had asked last November for the administration to do its own investigation of Ms. Kelley’s activities since she holds a position of authority over teacher improvement, human resources and district operations and one of her responsibilities was overseeing anti-bullying programs and compliance. However, Mrs. Busin said in the interview that she has “people on the inside, people that I trust,” that she’d learned the sheriff had informed Mr. Puletti Nov. 15 of Ms. Kelley’s involvement in the case and that he then called the school board attorney for advice.

“It is documented in the attorney bills. And the attorney said, ‘You have everything you need to let her go.’ Now, the superintendent doesn’t want to do that. There is a relationship between those two. I don’t know what their bond is, but he is not going to get rid of her,” said Mrs. Busin.

Mrs. Busin was re-elected to the school board last August by a wide margin against a candidate whom she believes was recruited by some people among district staff who were angry at her. They included Ms. Kelley and Mr. Puletti, she claims. Ms. Kelley was riled up over a controversy that arose when her effort to end salutatorian/valedictorian honors in spring 2018 at the high schools — without administration or board approval — was revealed and first got her in trouble, Mrs. Busin said.

She thinks retaliation was the motive, over that and for her prior pressure dating back to before Mrs. Busin had been elected to the board in 2014, on the school district for better treatment of families seeking special help for their developmentally disabled children.

“How Not to be a Terrible School Board Member” was the title of one of the first self-help books she’d been sent by the anonymous harasser last spring when she was running for re-election, Mrs. Busin said. She related that she confronted Mr. Puletti about it and that there was a telling exchange over the origin of that mailing, which resulted in her taking the mailed materials to the state attorney and requesting the investigation.

Asked for his response, Mr. Puletti stated in a phone interview: “I have not recruited, mailed or done anything regarding that election and that race.”

And if no charges end up being filed, he said: “I am eager to see what the materials are, because we have cooperated fully with anybody who has asked us to cooperate. And I know what Mrs. Busin during the campaign posted online, but in a conversation after, she mentioned that there were other things she had not posted online, and I don’t know what those are, so I would be eager to see what might be made public.

“If there is a charge, then we have a response and a responsibility. If there is no charge, then I think we need to consider our options from that point.”

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