ALBANY – At a 2017 Albany conference, then-Erie County Social Services Commissioner Al Dirschberger kept bringing and buying alcoholic drinks for his staffers – without being asked – and encouraged them to drink, said a department employee who accused him of raping her.
"Keep drinking. Here's another one," the alleged victim recounted Dirschberger saying to her and others.
Dirschberger, 54, is on trial on charges he raped the subordinate county employee, then 28, in the early morning hours of Dec. 6 at the Renaissance Hotel in downtown Albany after attending a conference. The alleged victim has accused Dirschberger of raping her in her hotel room while she was intoxicated. He contends the two engaged in consensual sex and that she invited him to her room.
The Buffalo News does not identify alleged victims of sexual assault without their consent and is not naming the woman.
Both she and Deborah Randazzo, a social services supervisor, said Dirschberger both "encouraged" and "pressured" them to drink after the first night of a statewide social services conference on Dec. 5-6, 2017.
Randazzo, 38, testified before jurors in Albany County Court that she was not friends with the alleged rape victim before the conference, but they drove together to the conference and socialized during the awards dinner and reception after the first day of workshops. She and the alleged victim said they ordered two drinks from an open bar and Dirschberger provided the other drinks.
Dirschberger replenished the liquor for those drinking at his table.
“Did you order the drinks?” a prosecutor asked.
“They kind of just kept coming,” Randazzo said.
The alleged victim said she felt pressured to drink because Dirschberger was commissioner of the department.
"I did not get up to get my own drink, but the defendant kept supplying it," said the alleged victim, who testified Wednesday for the first time.
By the time the dinner ended at 8:30 p.m., Dirschberger and the two women had been drinking for about three hours, the women testified.
Randazzo said Dirschberger encouraged and pressured Randazzo and the alleged victim to join him at the hotel bar afterward. The alleged victim said she wanted to return to her hotel room but Randazzo pleaded with her to join her at the hotel bar. Dirschberger kept buying rounds of drinks before they and some others from the conference headed out together to another bar.
"I felt intoxicated," the alleged victim said. "At one point, I started pouring my drink into another glass when the defendant wasn't looking."
They stayed out until around 1:30 a.m., during which time Randazzo said she switched to beer, and the alleged victim said she switched to water. During their conversation, Dirschberger shared with them confidential information about a social services supervisor he was planning to "get rid of." The alleged victim also said Dirschberger told her – when they were speaking apart from the rest of the group – that he intended to divorce his wife, marry another woman and move to the South.
Both testified that Dirschberger told them he didn’t care if either of them attended the second day of the conference.
"I don't care if you can't make it tomorrow because you're hungover," the alleged victim recalled Dirschberger saying.
Defense lawyer James Knox pointed out that in video footage gathered by police, there were multiple instances in which the alleged victim was seen touching Dirschberger and speaking with him apart from the rest of the group. Knox asked her if it would make more sense if she felt less intoxicated over time if she had refrained from drinking alcohol after leaving the hotel bar.
A grand jury indicted Dirschberger last year on third-degree felony rape charges. In New York, a person is guilty of third-degree rape when they engage in sexual intercourse with a person who is incapable of giving consent because they are less than 17 years old or because of some other factor, which can include intoxication.
The alleged victim was one of five social services employees attending the midweek conference in Albany, which is typically attended by higher level administrators and policymakers in the social services field. Randazzo said that she and the alleged victim would normally not be invited to such a conference, though Randazzo was surprised to win an award at the dinner.
Both Randazzo and the alleged victim were invited to the conference by Dirschberger.
Wednesday morning, the forensic nurse examiner who treated the alleged victim and gathered evidence for the rape case testified to multiple areas of swelling, abrasions, shallow lacerations and other injuries. She said it was her opinion the injuries were consistent with sexual trauma and the story provided by the alleged victim. As the photos were described and handed out to the jurors, the alleged victim's parents were visibly upset and left the courtroom.
Dirschberger was pressured to resign his position by County Executive Mark Poloncarz.
Dirschberger has maintained his innocence of the rape charges. In a phone conversation with the alleged victim that was recorded by the police, he said he exercised “poor judgment” but that the woman had invited him to her room and verbally encouraged his actions during the night.
In the recorded conversation, the woman said that she did not recall encouraging his behavior and told Dirschberger he had hurt her, resulting in blood on the hotel bedding. Another friend who testified also corroborated the bloody linens.
The defense is expected to continue the cross-examination of the alleged victim Thursday.