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She can’t say that!: Cascino to sue Copake board member for libel

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COPAKE—Salvatore Cascino says he was “defamed, slandered and libeled” by town Councilwoman Linda Gabaccia and that he intends to “commence an action” against the town within 90 days.

   The statement that rankles Mr. Cascino, the subject of a temporary restraining order sought by the town for his failure to comply with local laws, was attributed to Ms. Gabaccia by the Register-Star newspaper.  But Ms. Gabaccia says she did not make the statement in question.

   If he pursues this latest legal maneuver, it will become part of a long list of legal wrangling between Mr. Cascino and the Town of Copake. Over the last 12 years Mr. Cascino, a resident of Larchmont who owns a waste-hauling business in the Bronx, has a record of violating federal, state and town laws for dumping materials and constructing things without permits on his 300-acre Copake Valley Farm property along the east side of Route 22.

   Town Board members, through Town Attorney Kevin Thiemann, received a legal document, called a notice of claim, Tuesday morning, April 28. The claim alleges that Ms. Gabaccia told the Register-Star, a Hudson newspaper, that Mr. Cascino is a criminal. The story, written by reporter Jamie Larsen, appeared in the March 23 issue with the headline: “Ag and Markets hands down opinion on Cascino; raises ire of local politicians.”

   The opinion mentioned in the headline refers to a letter from an official at the state Department of Agriculture and Markets, which faulted the town for blocking the latest project proposed by Mr. Cascino. The official reckoned that his plans to build several massive structures were part of his “farm operation” and should be permitted by the town. The Town Planning Board rejected Mr. Cascino’s site plan for the project on numerous grounds in a decision issued last November.

   The politicians referred to are State Senator Steve Saland (R-41st) and Assemblyman Marcus Molinaro (R-103rd), who wrote scathing letters to the governor asking him to intervene on behalf of the people of Copake in light of Mr. Cascino’s history of disregard for environmental and zoning laws.

   Two other politicians interviewed for the story and described as “outraged by what they consider a hasty and uninformed opinion by the department” are Councilwoman Gabaccia and Councilman Bob Sacks.

   The next to last paragraph in the story quotes Ms. Gabaccia saying, “We’re standing up for a small community against a proven criminal. Ag and Markets was asleep at the wheel.”

   Ms. Gabaccia told The Columbia Paper Tuesday that she remembers telling the reporter that Mr. Cascino has “a proven track record for breaking the law,” but did not call him a criminal.

   Reached by phone for comment Tuesday afternoon, Mr. Larsen said, “I stand by my reporting.”   

   Councilwoman Gabaccia said she is very careful about her characterizations of Mr. Cascino, believing that he filed a complaint with the state Attorney General’s Public Integrity Unit in March 2008 against her colleague and fellow Democrat on the board, Councilman Sacks. The complaint alleged that sometime in February of last year at a Town Board meeting, Councilman Sacks said that Mr. Cascino’s “enterprises are involved with organized crimes of moral turpitude.” Mr. Cascino said in that complaint he was discriminated against because “I am an Italian,” and called for Mr. Sacks to be removed from office.

   Asked about the outcome of that complaint, Councilman Sacks said Tuesday that “nothing ever happened.” He said for all he knew the whole thing may have been “subterfuge.” Either the state attorney general’s office found it to be frivolous or it was never actually filed; in any case, Mr. Sacks said he was never contacted by anyone from the attorney general’s office about it.

   He said the complaint stemmed from a comment he made during executive session that was “misconstrued” and then “leaked” to Mr. Cascino in breach of executive session confidentiality.

   In his current legal claim, Mr. Cascino calls Ms. Gabaccia’s statement “false, unlawful, malicious” and meant to convey that he is “a convicted criminal of bad reputation” when, in reality, he is “a business man who has never been convicted of a crime.”

   The claim goes on the say that Mr. Cascino “has been brought into public scandal and disgrace, greatly injured in his good name and reputation and has and will continue to suffer great pain, distress of mind, humiliation, emotional and psychological injury…”

   Mr. Cascino seeks to be paid an undisclosed amount of money “to be specified upon the demand of the Town of Copake.”

   Among the unresolved legal issues involving Mr. Cascino and the town are two cases in state Supreme Court brought by the town for alleged violations of the temporary restraining order in place against him and violations of town codes. Mr. Cascino has brought a legal action, called an Article 78, against the town to get the Planning Board’s rejection of his site plan overturned.

   Town of Dover Supervisor Ryan Courtien, whose Dutchess County town is also involved in ongoing litigation with Mr. Cascino over dumping materials in a flood plain there, said as far as he knows Mr. Cascino has never filed a similar claim over name-calling in his town.

   Albany Attorney Dennis B. Schlenker, who represents Mr. Cascino in the claim, said through his secretary that he had no comment on the claim, saying the notice of claim speaks for itself.

   The document makes no mention of what court the claim might be filed in.

   Copake Supervisor Reggie Crowley said he had not yet read the claim and referred questions to Town Attorney Thiemann, who did not return a call for comment before press deadline.

   Ms. Gabaccia said the lawsuit is an effort to get her to be quiet about matters involving Mr. Cascino. “I will not be intimidated,” she said.

To contact Diane Valden email dvalden@ColumbiaPaper.com.

 

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