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Jury acquits Cascino on misdemeanor dumping charge

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HUDSON–A jury of seven men and five women found Sal Cascino and his company not guilty on a remaining single misdemeanor count of fourth degree endangering the public health, safety or the environment.

The indictment brought by the Office of State Attorney General Andrew Cuomo, had alleged that Mr. Cascino and his company recklessly engaged in conduct which caused the release of a hazardous substance — petroleum — on part of an eight-acre property along Route 9G, Clermont, diagonally across from Firehouse Road.

 

The verdict was read out in court at about 9:15 p.m. Wednesday, December 15, about eight hours after the jury began deliberations.

There was no immediate reaction from Mr. Cascino, who sat quietly with his arms crossed throughout the seven day trial, but his lawyer and the judge in the case thanked the jurors.

Mr. Cascino still faces charges in Albany for the alleged falsification of business records, and he has been ordered to comply with a judge’s order to remedy violations at his property in Copake.

After the jury was dismissed following the verdict, several jurors spoke with a DEC investigator, Jesse Paluch, the lead investigator in this case. Although there were many witnesses in the seven-day trial, Mr. Paluch was not called to testify. From what the jurors asked, it seemed that those jurors who were speaking to Mr. Paluch had lingering questions about the case.

Mr. Cascino, 71, of Larchmont, and his waste processing/hauling business, Bronx County Recycling, LLC, were initially indicted on two misdemeanor counts of violating state Environmental Conservation Law. But earlier this week Acting State Supreme Court Judge John Nichols dismissed one of the counts for lack of proof.

These charges are not part of legal proceedings involving Mr. Cascino and state and local officials in the Town of Copake, where Mr. Cascino operates a facility called Copake Valley Farm on Route 22. The state has found evidence of environmental violations there, and experts have testified in other proceedings that Mr. Cascino has dumped prohibited materials there.

The property in the Clermont case in state Supreme Court in Hudson encompasses what is known as the former Lamunyan dump in Clermont, a construction and demolition (c+d) debris landfill in the late 1980s that was never properly closed or remediated and subsequently was the site of a scrap metal salvage business.

The property is owned by William Cole, a general contractor, who testified that he bought the property in 2005, because it had an existing garage and plenty of space to store his construction and excavation equipment.

He also hoped to construct storage units and maybe a two-family house there to generate some income.

In applying to the Town of Clermont for permits to go forward with his plan, Mr. Cole was told that he had to check with the state Department of Environmental Conservation about the status of the property and whether his proposal was problematic given the former use of the property.

Mr. Cole wrote to Richard Forgea, a DEC solid waste engineer, to find out what he could do and was told that no construction would be permitted on the former landfill, which was still subject to closure. But the part of the property that was not the landfill was not restricted by the DEC.

Clermont Town Engineer Dan Wheeler was enlisted to determine the boundaries of the landfill and after that was done, Mr. Cole started bringing in fill from various locations to level off the property, which sloped significantly in the area where the old landfill was not located.

Eventually, through a truck driver Mr. Cole knew, arrangements were made to receive fill from Bronx County Recycling. Materials from Bronx County Recycling were dumped on Mr. Cole’s property from December 31, 2007 to July 1, 2009.

On September 29, 2009, the DEC executed a search warrant on the Cole property. Ten holes were dug on the property at various locations and six of the holes turned up illegal solid waste, such as tires, fiberglass insulation, vinyl siding, pipes, wire, shingles, car parts, plastic and metal.

Richard Dana, a DEC crime scene investigator, testified about the size, location of the holes, the materials found and that subsequent lab tests had turned up 65 parts per million of petroleum.

Five truck drivers testified during the trial about hauling tractor trailer dump truck loads (about 120,000 pounds per load) from Bronx County Recycling to the Clermont site, sometimes each driver brought two loads per day.

Driver’s testimony ranged from Charles Spadaccini, who identified all manner of illegal junk in his loads, including a specific hunk of green carpet, to Steve Sherman, who saw nothing objectionable in any of his loads. Mr. Spadaccini told the court he was directed by Mr. Cascino to take unprocessed waste to Clermont, while Mr. Sherman testified that he did not even know who owned Bronx County Recycling.

Throughout the trial, Dennis Schlenker, Mr. Cascino’s attorney, stressed that the contamination at the Clermont site dated back to before Carl LaMunyan, who bought it from the Pulver Oil Company.

He suggested in his closing arguments that Mr. Cascino was now being made the scapegoat for decades of contamination inflicted by other parties.

DEC Officer Peter Brinkerhoff testified for the defense about conditions at the LaMunyan site where he was frequently called to investigate in the late 1980s. Mr. Brinkerhoff said he saw a house trailer, hundreds of tires, truck bodies, a bus, half a prefabricated house and numerous 55 gallon drums of liquid.

To contact Diane Valden email dvalden@columbiapaper.com

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