Lawyer details long saga of Cascino cases

COPAKE—Enlisting the services of several attorneys, the Town of Copake has been engaged in litigation against Salvatore Cascino for thumbing his nose at the law for the past 12 years, which has cost the town thousands of dollars in legal fees.
At the September 12 Town Board meeting, Attorney Carl “Giff” Whitbeck gave the Town Board a rundown of the status of the litigation his firm, Rapport Meyers Whitbeck Shaw and Rodenhausen, LLP, has been engaged in on the town’s behalf since July 2006.
Mr. Cascino, a resident of Larchmont, owns a Bronx-based waste-hauling business. For the past dozen years, Mr. Cascino has been amassing violations of federal, state and town law on his 300-acre property, called Copake Valley Farm, along the east side of Route 22.
Mr. Whitbeck’s presentation started with Acting State Supreme Court Judge Jonathan Nichols’ issuance in 2006 of a temporary restraining order against Mr. Cascino, prohibiting all building, dumping and excavating on the property.
In June of this year the judge found Mr. Cascino guilty of both civil and criminal contempt for violating that order.
In 2008, Mr. Cascino applied to the town Planning Board to build a number of massive structures, and after the Planning Board rejected his site plan for his project, Mr. Cascino filed a lawsuit to overturn the Planning Board’s decision.
The court has not yet ruled on that suit, nor has the state Department of Agriculture and Markets issued a final decision on whether Mr. Cascino’s operation qualifies as a farm, a designation that would exempt his building project from local zoning regulations.
Over the past three years, Copake has spent upwards of $130,000 to bring several different lawsuits against Mr. Cascino, Mr. Whitbeck said.
Simultaneously, the state Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC), through the state Attorney General’s Office, also has several lawsuits pending against Mr. Cascino for filling in a significant area of state and federal wetlands and the Noster Kill, a protected trout stream, that runs through it. He did this by dumping hundreds of thousands of yards of material that Judge Nichols has now ordered him to remove, said Mr. Whitbeck.
Cascino matters date back to 1997. Holding his hands more than three feet apart, Mr. Whitbeck said that was the thickness of the file submitted to the court on the Planning Board suit alone.
Given “the history and magnitude of the filing,” Mr. Whitbeck said if the judge “spent all his waking hours over the next 60 days doing only this case he might be” able to reach a decision.
Most recently Mr. Cascino sought a stay of the order requiring him to pay penalties for his contempt convictions, including $23,000 in legal fees to the town.
Mr. Whitbeck went through the possible outcomes of this matter, noting the possibility that if Mr. Cascino exhausts his appeals and still does not pay the town, Copake can file a judgment against him and force the sale of his property at a public auction.
Residents worry that some potentially hazardous materials may have been dumped at Copake Valley Farm. Mr. Whitbeck said that state law does allows pulverized construction and demolition debris to be used as fill under what is called a beneficial use determination (BUD), which applies to “material that is not dangerous.” Mr. Cascino obtained a BUD and for a few years used pulverized material in road grading. But the state challenged the way Mr. Cascino created the material, which was ground up so finely that the components could not be discerned with the naked eye, a practice that violated the BUD
The town also awaits the judge’s decision on its main lawsuit, which charges that Mr. Cascino built things and engaged in illegal dumping in violation of Town Code.
The judge heard arguments in that case over three-days in February and March of this year.
A man in the audience at last week’s meeting asked whether the contempt conviction sentence of 30 days in jail is still hanging over Mr. Cascino’s head and whether Mr. Whitbeck expected “any of us to live long enough to see it happen.”  That elicited laughter from the audience.
The attorney said the possibility of jail time still exists but will certainly be delayed if the appellate court issues a stay of the judge’s orders until Mr. Cascino’s appeal is complete.”
Councilman Bob Sacks reminded townspeople that the temporary restraining order against Mr. Cascino is still in effect. He said residents should remain vigilant and report any alleged illegal activity to the town’s zoning enforcement officer.
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