EDITORIAL: Dear U.S. Attorney Bharara…

NO WONDER SAL CASCINO thinks he can get away with illegally dumping construction and demolition debris and who knows what else on the fields of his Copake “farm.” Why should he be any more observant of the law than the state’s legislative leaders?

In fairness, neither state Senator Dean Skelos, a Long Island Republican and the majority leader of the state Senate, nor former Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, a Manhattan Democrat, has been convicted of a crime, though both stand accused of felonies by the office of the United States attorney for the Southern District of New York, Preet Bharara. Mr. Cascino, on the other hand, is a felon and continues to openly engage in the same antisocial activities that led to his convictions and the citations for contempt of court that he so blithely ignores.

Senator Skelos, 67, and his son, Adam, 32, were arrested in Manhattan earlier this week and accused by the FBI and Mr. Bharara of extortion, bribery and other crimes. The arrests result from an investigation that included court authorized wiretaps of Senator Skelos allegedly using his position as the most powerful person in the Senate to benefit his son in business schemes that involved public funds and public policy. Senator Skelos told reporters he is innocent and will be vindicated at trial.

Mr. Cascino, 75, doesn’t talk to the press. After 17 years of violating local and state laws with only a few modest fines to show for a truckload of charges against him, why should he start worrying now? In court he’s been portrayed as a kindly grandfather. Yes, he’s a grandpa who has overseen the illegal dumping of thousands of tons of construction debris–only he knows exactly how much.

What compounds the frustration of his Copake neighbors is the ease with which Grandpa Sal games the legal system with delays and evasions that have kept him out of jail, so far. And it does seem odd that he hasn’t been penalized in some way that would deter him from ignoring laws that most of us obey, even if we disagree with them.

Money allows him to get away with it. This reminds you how profitable illegal dumping can be. Imagine that you’re tearing down or remodeling a building in New York City; it can be very expensive to comply with the regulations for disposing of all your rubble, especially if it contains asbestos or other nasty materials. Then along comes our cuddly Grandpa, who had his waste hauling business in the Bronx until the state forced him to give it up. He offers to truck the debris away at a price too good to be true. Would you ask where it was going? Would you know where Copake is if he told you? Grandpa’s a magician. He makes bad things disappear from the city and reappear in Copake. This makes Grandpa rich.

His money not only buys clever lawyers who drag out the cases against Grandpa for years; wealth can also purchase political influence. Did Grandpa ever need help from politicians? His company once retained the services of a powerful lobbying and public relations firm in New York City that included a former city official and a candidate for governor.
It’s not clear from public records what help Grandpa needed in terms of lobbying or PR. If it was public relations, the results didn’t register here. If it was lobbying, who was he seeking to influence?

These days the state Department of Environmental Conservation is demanding records from Grandpa and expects to get them soon. Good luck with that. Meanwhile, Columbia County Judge Jonathan Nichols has not used his power to compel Grandpa to restore the Copake land he polluted and was told to clean up years ago. Judge Nichols may have good reasons for inaction, but to non-lawyers it looks like a failure to hold Grandpa to the same standards of accountability that apply to the rest of us.

It’s time the public found out whether Grandpa has some special clout, not just from his wealth but perhaps also from the influence his wealth can purchase. It’s time Assemblymember Didi Barrett, state Senator Kathy Marchione, Congressman Chris Gibson and U.S. Senators Chuck Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand asked U.S. Attorney Bharara to look into this case. He’d have jurisdiction because of the Bronx connection–the waste is coming from somewhere.

Maybe Grandpa has done all this on his own. But wouldn’t you like to know whether he has friends in high places?

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