CLAVERACK—The Town of Copake was back in State Supreme Court this week trying to prove to the judge why Salvatore Cascino should go to jail.
Arguments on two orders to show cause got underway at the temporary county courthouse Wednesday morning, July 31 before Acting State Supreme Court Judge Jonathan Nichols.
Town officials and state Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) officers testified about the ongoing illegal activities at the Cascino property, including dumping and unpermitted building.
While Mr. Cascino’s attorney told the judge his client had completed all the clean-up and dismantling tasks the judge had ordered.
Attorney Victor Meyers represents Copake, and presented proof that Mr. Cascino ignored two restraining orders, dated January and May of this year, prohibiting him from building without permits and dumping unidentified trucked-in materials.
Mr. Cascino, 73, a convicted scofflaw, lives in Larchmont and owns 300 acres along the east side of Route 22, across from the southern entrance to the Copake hamlet. He calls the place Copake Valley Farm and for the past 16 years has racked up violations of federal, state and town laws there for illegal dumping, building and excavating without proper permits.
Mr. Cascino was found guilty of both civil and criminal contempt in 2009. He is represented by Attorney Brian Gardner.
In his opening statements, Mr. Meyers said this is the fourth contempt proceeding brought by the town against Mr. Cascino, the third hearing that has been held plus a civil action called an Article 78 all related to the same issue. He said that despite the defendant’s contentions, the hearing is not about how long it took the town to bring the case “there is no statute of limitations on contempt.”
“Let’s face it, [the town] waited a year to get here,” said Judge Nichols, who questioned Mr. Meyers about the town’s reasoning for waiting until all appeals had been exhausted before bringing the matter back to the court.
Mr. Meyers replied that the town could have brought a contempt hearing every month, given Mr. Cascino’s continued activities.
“Copake is a small town with limited resources,” said Mr. Meyer, noting the decision was made to “wait until the dust settles.”
“Is it the town’s position that Mr. Cascino had no obligation to obey my orders?” asked the judge.
“He could have complied at any time. This litigation has been going on for 10 years, Mr. Cascino has had consistent disregard for the orders of this court and the town,” said Mr. Meyers. The attorney went on to state that the issue is not about State Department of Agriculture and Markets Law, which does not supersede the lawful order of the Supreme Court. Two such orders have been affirmed by the Appellate Division of state court.
The town’s attorney said the issues are that Mr. Cascino has not applied for permits to build everything he has built and has not removed the steel bridge, the stone wall or the illegal fill he dumped. He also did not restore the farm stand to its 2006 condition, but instead continued to build, combining two small structures into one large one. Mr. Meyers said there is no other alternative but to incarcerate Mr. Cascino until he comes into compliance.
Mr. Gardner said the town “is trying to have it both ways.”
Judge Nichols interrupted him, declaring he did not care what the town did, that it was his court order and he was interested in enforcing it.
Mr. Cascino does have exposure to incarceration until he complies, said the judge. “What action has your client taken on the [temporary restraining order]?” asked the judge. “Is the stone wall still there?”
Mr. Gardner said that Mr. Cascino had removed all the contaminated fill (150,000 cubic yards of it) and done everything the judge had ordered except those things that would negatively impact his farming activities.
“The stone wall should not be there. I ordered it taken down. You cannot obviate the responsibility that the court order is complied with,” the judge told Mr. Gardner, who said Mr. Cascino’s non-compliance was not “malicious.”
Mr. Gardner said that some documents relating to Ag and Markets had not been considered by the judge in his earlier decisions because they had not been submitted by Mr. Cascino’s previous counsel. He cited “law office failure,” but when the judge asked Mr. Gardner to show him where in his court filings he had filed the motion, it turned out not to be there at all.
Mr. Gardner argued that the town had “lulled” Mr. Cascino into believing he did not have to get permits and “then three or four years later said, ‘Go to jail.’”
Mr. Gardner said his client had not removed the stone wall because the town later granted Mr. Cascino a permit to build a retaining wall that connects to it. He said that the town deals with Mr. Cascino based on a “fluctuating animosity rate.”
The first witness called by the town was Code Enforcement Officer/Building Inspector Edward Ferratto who testified about visits he made to the Cascino property, what he saw while he was there and photos he took. He testified that the stone wall, the steel bridge and the completely renovated farm stand are all still there and as far as he knew so was all the contaminated fill Mr. Cascino had dumped there.
On one visit, Mr. Ferratto took DEC Officer Peter Brinkerhoff with him to help him identify the “aggregate” that he defined as foreign materials, not native to Copake, that he saw dumped there along the Noster Kill. While looking at a series of photos he had taken, Mr. Ferratto described that they showed aggregate along with a variety of white and black plastic pieces, brick, stone, cooper wire and rusted steel pipe.
He also described many photos taken of the farm stand as Mr. Cascino’s work progressed without benefit of a building permit and with a stop-work order in place.
After a break for lunch, Mr. Meyers told The Columbia Paper he planned to call Mr. Brinkerhoff and DEC Investigator Jesse Paluch to testify about what they found when they went to the property.
The hearing is expected to take another day to complete, although when the judge might find another available day in his calendar to hear it was not immediately known.
To contact Diane Valden email