Time for FBI in Copake

WHAT’S SO FUNNY? That’s what we wanted to ask Salvatore Cascino after seeing photos of him grinning on the way into the county courthouse last week to face a two-count indictment for illegal dumping.

He gave the impression in his court appearance that these charges of dumping hazardous materials at a site in the Town of Clermont are no big deal. Sad to say, he could be right.

Mr. Cascino has been thumbing his nose at town, county and state officials for more than a dozen years, while dumping solid waste, at least some of it hazardous, digging up a trout stream without permission and attempting to build an industrial-sized waste processing facility that he called a “farm.” His legal maneuvers have cost taxpayers thousands of dollars, but he has yet to be held accountable.

That’s what the public knew about his activities at his 300-acre property along state Route 22 near the hamlet of Copake until last week. But state investigators have discovered that Mr. Cascino, who lives in Larchmont and operates a waste hauling business in the Bronx, was also dumping at a site in Clermont, clear across the county. The indictments say the waste he dumped there included petroleum.

The state has yet to reveal the exact location Mr. Cascino allegedly trashed this time, but it sounds similar to the LaMunyan dump, where haulers allegedly working with organized crime figures buried noxious waste, including PCBs, during the 1980s, disguising it in loads of comparatively innocuous debris from construction and demolition projects.

It almost sounds comical, a bunch of burly guys wondering what they’re going to do with some truckloads of smelly stuff: “Hey, take it upstate an’ t’row it in the woods. Nobody’ll notice.”

But illegal dumping of hazardous waste isn’t a sitcom, it’s a big, nasty business that requires people all along the process to cooperate in violating the law or to pretend they don’t know that poisons are involved.

Run-ins with the law may add up to another cost of doing business for a guy like Mr. Cascino. That’s how he has treated the Town of Copake and the rulings of Judge Jonathan Nichols in state Supreme Court. So I’m in criminal contempt of court. So I appeal. So what?

The charges against Mr. Cascino are only misdemeanors. He could spend a couple of years in jail, but that seems unlikely–it’s a first conviction if he’s guilty and, as his lawyer said, he’s a grandfather, a solid citizen.

As part of last week’s court session state Attorney General Andrew Cuomo’s office requested a show cause order that would demand Mr. Cascino stop dumping and complete work to repair the damage he has already done in Copake. That brief cites tests of soil dug up last year by the state Department of Environmental Conservation, which show high concentrations of friable asbestos, the type of asbestos known to cause lung cancer and other life-threatening diseases. Anyone who still thinks Mr. Cascino has a right to do whatever he wants on his own property should explain to the residents of Copake what they’re supposed to do when the wind blows dust off the fields at Copake Valley Farm.

Somebody in Mr. Cascino’s position might smile because he knows how weak state laws are when it comes to serial polluters. Or maybe he’s aware that the DEC, the main enforcement agency when it comes to illegal dumping, has seen its budget cut by $32 million and has lost 400 staff members over the last 18 months as the state tries to cope with its fiscal crisis.

Whatever the reason, it’s time to look for help a notch higher on the governmental ladder. Mr. Cascino has done business in Connecticut in the past. That presents an opportunity for the U.S. Department of Justice to step in and investigate. We urge Congressman Scott Murphy and Senators Charles Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand to make this request for assistance.

Asking for federal help implies nothing about the important work already done by the DEC and the Attorney General’s Office. It simply says this case has gone on too long and too much is at stake; it is time to bring more resources to bear on a problem bigger than previously known. We can’t say whether a visit from the FBI would affect Mr. Cascino’s sunny disposition, but it would give the people of this county a reason to hope that when it comes to dumping here, the rule of law will prevail.

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