HUDSON—In the latest unsuccessful attempt to get Salvatore Cascino out of jail, Mr. Cascino’s attorney told the judge that the solid waste his client illegally dumped and was supposed to remove from his Copake property was no longer there—although he lacked proof about where exactly the stuff went.
A convicted felon and serial scofflaw, 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.
In Columbia County State Supreme Court Tuesday, January 17, Attorney Martin P. Bonventure of the Kindlon Law Firm in Albany, who represents Mr. Cascino, submitted a soil sampling report to Acting State Supreme Court Judge Jonathan Nichols. The report was done by Scott Taylor of Taylord Environment, Inc., an environmental consulting firm in Dover Plains, Dutchess County, January 9.
The report was supposed to show that Mr. Cascino had “purged his contempt” by removing 9,650 cubic yards of illegally dumped solid waste from his Copake property as ordered by the judge.
Mr. Cascino will have spent 146 days from August 26, 2016 through January 19, 2017 and an additional 69 days between February 25 and May 4, 2016 in the Columbia County Jail after being found guilty of criminal and civil contempt by Judge Nichols February 25, 2016. The judge’s decision came in connection with two 2013 orders to show cause brought by the Town of Copake, which sought to have Mr. Cascino held in contempt for his failure to comply with numerous orders previously issued by the court.
The judge had ordered Mr. Cascino to rectify his unlawful actions by taking down illegally built structures, paying fines, reimbursing Copake for its legal fees, removing 9,650 cubic yards of illegally dumped solid waste and spending at least 60 days in jail.
In court Tuesday morning, attorney Victor Meyers of Rapport Meyers, LLP in Hudson, who represents Copake, told Judge Nichols that the defendant’s soil report, in fact, found that “the offending material is still there.”
Mr. Bonventure disagreed, noting that while “visible artifacts” were found at the test site that “doesn’t mean the offending material is still there.” The offending material, he contended, “is pulverized and not recognizable by the naked eye.”
According to Mr. Bonventure, Mr. Taylor, who “understands and is able to analyze” the composition of materials that come from recycling facilities, was looking for certain metals and chemicals in soil samples taken from the site. Since those components were not found in the samples, Mr. Bonventure concluded, “We have shown the [offending] material is not present.”
Judge Nichols then asked the attorney where the material went.
Mr. Bonventure said the defense had provided “ample documentation that the stuff was removed.”
But the judge disagreed, saying that the documentation did not identify the material removed as solid waste, which must be disposed of at a licensed waste facility as required by Department of Environmental Conservation regulations.
Mr. Bonventure said the evidence was attached to the report in the form of a two-inch-thick stack of receipts/tickets from a facility called Recycle Depot.
“Those tickets generically refer to a rock and dirt mix and not solid waste,” said the judge.
As the proceeding continued, Mr. Bonventure said at one point, “It’s not possible to remove only the offending material.”
When Mr. Bonventure said the receipts were of part of the defense exhibits submitted by Mr. Cascino’s previous attorney who sought to be relieved as Mr. Cascino’s counsel, Judge Nichols advised Mr. Bonventure “not to go down that path” as his client had been part of all the prior defense efforts.
The judge also questioned the material left behind at the site in Copake
Attorney Meyers identified that material as “pieces of wire, plastic, metal, pipes and adulterated wood” some of it in a “pulverized condition” reading from a prior affidavit submitted by Mr. Taylor.
In his January 9 soil report, Mr. Taylor admits he found this material on the property, said Mr. Meyers, who noted he has about 20 photos of the offending debris found on the property that day.
Mr. Taylor, who met with Copake officials, Supervisor Jeff Nayer and Councilman Stanley “Stosh” Gansowski at the Cascino property January 9 for the collection of soil samples, wrote in his report, “The outside air temperature was approximately 5 degrees Fahrenheit. Approximately two inches of snow covered the farm field. The Copake officials used backpack leaf blowers to remove the snow from the surface of the field thereby exposing the surface soils. The Copake officials were looking for artifacts (brick, plastic, wire, steel, glass). During their search the town officials did find artifacts. During the search, I observed the artifacts found by the town officials, they included, brick, glass, plastic and wire.”
At that point Judge Nichols left the courtroom for 40 minutes in search of evidence files dating back to 2013 court proceedings when a state investigator testified about what he saw dumped on the property. When he returned, the judge said there was little doubt in his mind that the Taylord Environment soil report provided evidence that the offending material was still on the site.
The judge said Mr. Bonventure was trying to “dilute” his decision into meaning “something less than all” of the offending material/solid waste had to be removed. He said Mr. Bonventure was “improperly shifting the burden of proof” to the town, when it is the “defense’s obligation to demonstrate that all the material has been removed.”
Mr. Bonventure contended that the soil test “chemistry shows that the material is not there” and suggested that the debris was “natural” or from something else.
“Anyone can recognize that plastic is not a naturally-occurring substance,” said the judge, noting it is “not my problem now to grant latitude to the defendant” when his attorney “should have done a better job.”
Judge Nichols then recommended that the defense attorney review the 1,000 or so transcript pages associated with the original trial.
“Over the objection of the defense,” the judge denied the motion to release Mr. Cascino and ordered him back to jail.
In other Cascino related matters, the State Attorney General’s Office said by email Wednesday, “In November 2016, the Court granted the State partial summary judgment in this case as to: 1) liability relative to violation of a 2012 Consent Order prohibiting Mr. Casino from bringing any material on the Copake property (13 Lackawanna Road); and 2) the imposition of penalties for this violation. In the November decision, the Court adjourned the proceeding related to the imposition of penalties in view of Mr. Casino’s incarceration and recently retaining new counsel. We expect the Court will lift the adjournment shortly.”
U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Upstate New York Field Office Project Manager George Casey said his office is still waiting for Mr. Cascino to get out of jail in order to resolve his violations for dumping in federal wetlands.
Mr. Cascino will be sentenced on his misdemeanor conviction of operating a solid waste facility without a permit in Copake Town Court February 27 at 1 p.m.
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