Rhinebeck High gym teacher convicted in theft of student’s iPhone in gym class

Michael Piccione, a physical education teacher at Rhinebeck High School, has been convicted of petty larceny in the theft of a student’s iPhone, jeans and belt at school almost two years ago.

Piccione was convicted April 11 in Rhinebeck Village Court, after he pleaded guilty two months earlier. He was sentenced to three years probation and ordered to make restitution for the stolen items and write a letter of apology to the victim, according to court records.

Piccione, of Pleasant Valley, is still on leave with pay from the Rhinebeck School District. According to public records, his annual salary is $75,430 and he has worked at the school since 2000. He was reportedly placed on paid leave by school board officials in January 2012, a month after he was arrested.

According to the victim’s mother, Debbie Rodriguez, her son, Eric, received the iPhone as an early birthday present and took it to school on Nov. 17, 2011. The phone was stolen out of his backpack in the locker room during gym class, along with his jeans and belt.

She said Rodriguez took Eric and a friend back to the school that evening and they tracked Eric’s phone’s location to the gym locker room area using his friend’s phone. They searched every corner but did not find the phone and concluded that it must be in the locked physical education office. The friend kept tracking the phone the next day, when its location changed to Hyde Park, but after that, the signal was lost, she said.

The mystery came to an end Nov. 29, she said, when the father of a 14-year-old boy in Kingston contacted police to report that his son had received a stolen phone.

In a statement to Rhinebeck police, the boy in Kingston, who repairs cell phones, said he had been contacted by someone on Nov. 23 who needed help connecting a recently purchased iPhone to Verizon’s network. However, the boy said he had trouble getting the phone to work and suspected that it had been stolen.
The phone purchaser bought the iPhone for $300 from an employee at an autobody repair shop in Hyde Park, believing it to be a duplicate phone, according to a statement to Rhinebeck police.

In a deposition given to Rhinebeck police when he was arrested Dec. 17, 2011, Piccione said that he had “gathered some things that were left out in the locker room” on Nov. 17 and put them in his car. He said that as he drove home, he heard a phone ringing and realized that he had a phone in the items. The deposition said he then gave the phone to an employee at an autobody shop in lieu of payment for car repairs.

Asked for comment, Superintendent Joseph Phelan told The Observer, “The District does not comment on the specifics of internal personnel matters so as to meet its obligation to protect the privacy rights of its employees. That said, the District currently is addressing this internal personnel matter in consideration of the best interests of our students through the administrative processes and procedures available to school districts under New York State Education Law.”

Board of Education President Deirdre Burns added, “To be clear, we consider theft to be a significant breach of professional conduct and wholly unacceptable, and we are taking every step available to address that behavior.”

Rodriguez would like to see more consequences for Piccione, but those have been slow in coming, she said.

“We, the taxpayers, are still paying for a substitute while we pay his salary. To me, that’s like adding insult to injury,” she said.

Neither the restitution nor the letter of apology has been received by the Rodriguez family, she added.

In 2005, Piccione was honored for saving a student’s life when the student suffered sudden cardiac arrest during a gym class.