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Judge to Sal: Clean it up or stay put

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Cascino allegedly tried to conceal debris that must go

HUDSON—Remove the debris or stay in jail, it seems simple enough, but apparently not to Salvatore Cascino.

Mr. Cascino appeared in Columbia County Supreme Court for the second time this month, May 18, in his latest attempt to get out of jail. But despite hiring yet another new lawyer, who called a couple of witnesses to the stand, the judge’s ruling was the same—get thee back to the slammer.

Mr. Cascino, 77, of Larchmont in Westchester County, has spent the past 19 years racking up violations of federal, state and town laws for illegal dumping, building and excavating at a place he calls Copake Valley Farm along the east side of Route 22 in Copake.

In a February 2016 ruling, Columbia County Acting Supreme Court Judge Jonathan Nichols found Mr. Cascino guilty of both criminal and civil contempt in connection with two court actions brought by the Town of Copake. The judge ordered him to spend at least 60 days in the Columbia County Jail, to rectify certain wrongs associated with illegally-built structures and unlawful dumping on his property, to pay fines and reimburse Copake for legal fees expended in bringing suit against him. The judge’s decision indicated Mr. Cascino must remain in jail until the violations are resolved.

Mr. Cascino has been in the Columbia County Jail for 272 consecutive days as of May 25 for his failure to obey the part of the court order that directs him to remove 9,650 cubic yards of illegally dumped solid waste from his 300-acre Copake property. He spent an additional 69 days in the clink from February to May 2016, then the judge released him so he could continue the removal of the offending material. But when Mr. Cascino failed to provide the required proof that he had “purged his contempt” by completing the removal task, Judge Nichols sent him back to the hoosegow last August and has been there ever since–a total 341 days.

In the court hearing May 18, Mr. Cascino’s new attorney, Greg D. Lubow of Tannersville, called Peter Cascino, Mr. Cascino’s son, and Jose Aguilera, a farm employee, to the stand. Peter testified that when it was brought to his attention that the “dirt” had to be removed, he began the process while his father was in jail.

Peter said he had men fill up trucks with the material and haul it away. He said he knew what material had to be removed because representatives from the state Department of Environmental Conservation had flagged the area. He said the area, marked by yellow flags, was near a solitary tree and a 30-acre cornfield behind his father’s house. Peter said he was not present when the DEC flagged the area, nor were any Copake Town officials. He testified that 2,045 cubic yards of material had been removed.

Under cross examination by Victor Meyers, the attorney representing Copake, Peter said he lives in Briarcliff Manor in Westchester County and manages real estate—commercial buildings in the Bronx for the PAC Realty Corporation, which is owned by him and his father.

Peter said he was told by David Wiener, his father’s assistant, that DEC had flagged the area. Mr. Meyers established that Peter had no direct knowledge of why the DEC flagged the area and when asked about legal action the DEC had commenced against his father for illegal dumping, Peter said he did not know about it.

Mr. Aguilera, a foreman employed by Salvatore Cascino at Copake Valley Farm for almost 20 years, said he operated the bulldozer, dug up the dirt, put it on a tractor trailer to be taken to the dump. He said the excavation took him two to three weeks.

When Mr. Meyers moved to introduce a survey map of Copake Valley Farm into evidence, Mr. Lubow asked him if he was going to use it as a “prop”?

Speaking in a stern tone, Judge Nichols told Mr. Lubow, “We do not deal with props, this is not a theater, we deal with evidence.”

Stanley “Stosh” Gansowski, a retired Taconic Telephone operations manager, a Copake councilman and a 40-year resident of Weed Mine Road, which neighbors Copake Valley Farm, was called to the stand by Mr. Meyers.

Mr. Gansowski said he passes the Cascino property about five times a day, more so now that he is retired. He said he saw the flags on the property and described their location as southwest of a lone tree in the field south of Lackawanna Road. He also circled the area on the survey map.

Mr. Gansowski then told the court that he saw Mr. Cascino’s employees dig up material in the designated area around the tree, put it in a truck and move it some distance away in an easterly direction to the top of the cornfield.

He said the men then spread out the piles of debris with bulldozers and pay loaders. He said the debris was then repeatedly plowed and harrowed into the soil and corn planted on top of it.

During a May 15 inspection of the property prior to the May 18 hearing, Mr. Gansowski said he and Copake Supervisor Jeff Nayer again found foreign debris strewn about the field: pieces of brick, plastic, bathroom floor tile and “a chewed up soda bottle.”

He said there was no need to dig down for the material, it was all lying on the surface.

The town officials photographed the items. The photos were admitted as evidence despite Mr. Lubow’s objection that the photos were enlargements.

Mr. Lubow called into question whether that material Mr. Gansowski saw being moved to a different area of the property was part of the 9,650 cubic yards that was supposed to be taken off the property and disposed of properly or if it was something else.

After both sides were finished, which took about two hours, Judge Nichols said Mr. Cascino had not offered sufficient proof to warrant his release. Testimony/evidence did not establish that the 9,650 cubic yards in question “had been removed in totality as ordered by this court,” said the judge and he directed that Mr. Cascino continue to be incarcerated. He set August 9 at 3 p.m. as a date and time for further review of the case.

As Copake officials and residents left the courtroom, Peter Cascino told them, “You should be ashamed of yourselves.”

In other court action brought against Mr. Cascino by State Attorney General Eric Schneiderman on behalf of the DEC, Judge Nichols issued a decision May 9 finding that Mr. Cascino had violated a June 25, 2012 consent agreement with the DEC by depositing solid waste at Copake Valley Farm over an 82-day period from January to May 2013. Mr. Cascino did not submit any opposition to the claim.

The judge imposed a $7,500 fine for violating Article 27 of Environmental Conservation Law and an additional $1,500 fine for each of the 81-days the violation continued for a total fine of $130,500.

To contact Diane Valden email dvalden@columbiapaper.com

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