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Town asks DA to probe Cascino

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Appeals panel says dumper violated restraining order

COPAKE–For the second time in a month Salvatore Cascino has lost a legal appeal from judgments in favor of the Town of Copake, and now the Town Board has asked Columbia County District Attorney Beth Cozzolino to step-in and pursue a criminal case against him as well.

Mr. Cascino is a resident of Larchmont who owns a Bronx-based waste hauling business. For the last 13 years he has violated federal, state and town law by dumping without a permit and conducting other illegal activities on his 300-acre property called Copake Valley Farm along the east side of Route 22.

On May 13, the State Supreme Court, Appellate Division upheld Acting Supreme Court Justice Jonathan Nichol’s June 12, 2009 decision that found Mr. Cascino in both civil and criminal contempt of the temporary restraining order (TRO) the judge issued in 2006. The order prohibited all construction, excavation and the dumping on the Cascino property.

The appellate court wrote, “contrary to the defendant’s arguments that the order was vague and ambiguous, the TRO expressed a clear and unequivocal mandate.” The town, represented by Attorney Victor Meyers, presented testimony and photographs “demonstrating that the defendants willfully and openly flouted the explicit directives of the TRO,” said the appellate judges.

As part of the contempt finding, Mr. Cascino was ordered to remove a 10-foot-high stone wall that he built on the property without a permit, remove all materials dumped on the property, stop construction work on a farm stand, pay a fine of $250 and pay the town its reasonable costs and attorney fees expended in the course of prosecuting the contempt case.

Those attorney fees, $21,609.97 were also the subject of an appeal by Mr. Cascino, represented by Attorney Dennis Schlenker. In an April 19 decision, Judge Nichols affirmed his previous ruling and ordered Mr. Cascino to pay up.

Mr. Schlenker did not return a call for comment on the outcome of the contempt appeal.

Mr. Cascino was criminally indicted on two violations of state Environmental Conservation Law for illegally dumping solid waste and petroleum at a location off route 9G in Clermont. The indictment was filed by state Attorney General Andrew Cuomo and unsealed in State Supreme Court before Judge Nichols April 12. Mr. Cascino is charged with one count of operating an unpermitted landfill and fourth degree endangering the public health, safety or the environment. The charges carry a maximum of two years in prison. Mr. Cascino pleaded not guilty to the charges and was released on his own recognizance.

Also, part of the April 12 court proceedings was a separate action filed by the AG’s Office seeking to force Mr. Cascino and his businesses to comply with the terms of a July 2007 consent decree barring any dumping at his Copake property. The decree required Mr. Cascino to remove all the fill he dumped in a wetlands and protected trout stream and construct barricades to prevent the use of an unlawfully constructed bridge on the property, pay $140,000 in penalties and environmental mitigation funds and restore the wetlands.

A September 2009 search at Copake Valley Farm revealed not only that more solid waste has been dumped on the property since 2007, but that the solid waste contained “elevated levels of friable asbestos, a hazardous air pollutant.”

Though the AG’s motion seeks an order requiring Mr. Cascino to clean up the waste under DEC supervision, Mr. Cascino has not been charged with any crime in connection with the asbestos found in a lab analysis of the September 2009 sample. The results of the analysis of that sample were received by the DEC in February.

At the May 13 Copake Town Board meeting, Councilman Bob Sacks asked his colleagues on the board to join him in passing a resolution “seeking to protect our citizens… requesting that our county district attorney investigate the merits and viability of a possible criminal case or cases against Mr. Cascino. In so doing we believe that she will be protecting not only the people of Copake but all other citizens of Columbia County.”

Mr. Sacks said civil charges “never” result in incarceration of the defendant but criminal charges can lead time in jail or prison. “Mr. Cascino has been very skillful in avoiding real punishment and continuing his detrimental abuse of small towns,” said Mr. Sacks, who added that the DA “has the full authority to bring meaningful criminal charges against Mr. Cascino.”

Referring to the DEC’s finding of “toxic levels of asbestos” in Copake, Mr. Sacks said he found “this toxic development a crass and reprehensible act against humanity.”

Supervisor Reggie Crowley, Councilwoman Linda Gabaccia voted in favor of the resolution along with Mr. Sacks. Councilman Walter Kiernan abstained, and Councilman Daniel Tompkins was absent.

Town Clerk Vana Hotaling mailed the resolution to DA Cozzolino, who told The Columbia Paper in a May 18 phone interview that she had not yet received the request.

Ms. Cozzolino said that both she and the Attorney General could bring charges against Mr. Cascino, but that first an investigation to determine whether there was probable cause for charges must be conducted. She said she could then present the evidence to a grand jury, which would decide whether to indict Mr. Cascino.

But the DA’s Office is not an investigating agency, relying instead on the various law enforcement agencies to conduct investigations. She suggested that Copake officials might be better served by contacting an investigative agency with their concerns.

Ms. Cozzolino could not be reached to ask a follow-up question about whether the DEC’s asbestos finding was adequate evidence to pursue charges.

A packet of documents pertaining to state Environmental Law and case law on “plenary prosecutorial power” of district attorneys in the state was recently sent to The Columbia Paper by Attorney Eugene Keeler, a former Columbia County DA.

Mr. Keeler said he sent the information in response to an April 22 editorial in this newspaper that suggested “it’s time to look for help a notch higher on the government ladder” and urged Congressman Scott Murphy and Senators Charles Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand to call on the US Department of Justice for assistance in dealing with Mr. Cascino

Mr. Keeler praised the editorial, but said what was missing was a discussion about the plenary power of the DA to bring criminal charges and he wanted to bring that to light.

To contact Diane Valden email dvalden@columbiapaper.com.

RELATED PRESS RELEASE:

Molinaro, Saland see environmental victory

ALBANY–Assemblyman Marc Molinaro (R-103rd) and Senator Steve Saland (R-41st) commended a decision that upheld a state appeals court ruling that Salvatore Cascino and his businesses violated the terms of a temporary restraining order and harmed the Columbia County environment and public health.

The legislators described the ruling as a victory for the Hudson Valley environment, following evidence of solid waste and trash dumping on the sprawling property.

“This decision affirms that environmental abusers should not be allowed to blatantly frustrate local land use policies and environmental enforcement,” said Mr. Molinaro in the press release. He also noted that “the town was undermined at nearly every turn by a willful environmental abuser because oversight and enforcement was not streamlined.”

“The Appellate Division’s unanimous decision in no uncertain terms affirms that Judge Nichols correctly held Salvatore Cascino and the corporate defendants in civil and criminal contempt for willfully violating the terms of the Judge’s temporary restraining order. Equally importantly, it underscores and validates the actions that the Town of Copake was required to take in its unfortunately protracted and costly battle against the environmental abuses that Mr. Cascino and the other defendants attempted to get away with,” Mr. Saland said in the release.

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