COPAKE—It’s a vicious circle.
The many pending court cases against Salvatore Cascino keep on spinning, yet seem no closer to resolution than when Mr. Cascino first dumped his way onto the local radar nearly two decades ago.
Mr. Cascino, 76, of Larchmont, a village in the Town of Mamaroneck, Westchester County, owns a 300-acre property along the east side of Route 22. He calls the place Copake Valley Farm and for the past 18 years he has been racking up violations of federal, state and town laws for illegal dumping, building and excavating there.
A convicted felon and serial scofflaw, Mr. Cascino was found guilty of both civil and criminal contempt in 2009. He also pleaded guilty to one count of felony second degree offering a false instrument on behalf of his corporations as part of a plea deal in Albany County Supreme Court in June 2012.
February 5 will mark two years that the Town of Copake has been waiting for a decision from Acting State Supreme Court Judge Jonathan Nichols on two orders to show cause why Mr. Cascino should not be held in contempt of court. Court proceedings on those motions wrapped up December 11, 2013 after five days of testimony and legal wrangling.
The town, represented by attorney Victor Meyers, presented evidence of Mr. Cascino’s continued failure to comply with court orders in an earlier contempt case, in which the judge directed Mr. Cascino to remove the steel bridge, a stone wall and the illegal fill he dumped in and along the Noster Kill. Mr. Cascino was also required to restore the farm stand to its 2006 condition, that is, to undo all the construction work he did on it because he failed to get a building permit for the work in the first place.
Final legal submissions were due in these cases by February 5, 2014. Additional orders to show cause filed by Attorney Meyers on Copake’s behalf in connection with three illegal construction projects in 2014 have not yet even been scheduled for court hearings.
Attorney Meyers said by phone this week that he has had several conversations with the judge about the matter but remains at a loss to explain why no decision has been rendered. Copake Supervisor Jeff Nayer said he also has heard nothing with regard to the cases and his town wants closure. “We’re all anxious,” said Mr. Meyers.
A call to Judge Nichols’ chambers this week was not returned.
Cases being handled by State Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman’s office on behalf of the state Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) and the state Department of Transportation (DOT) against Mr. Cascino are also ongoing.
The AG’s Senior Deputy Press Secretary Nicholas Benson reported by email that “discovery is now completed” in the attorney general’s case, which asks the court to find Mr. Cascino guilty of both civil and criminal contempt because officials discovered and documented since September 2014 that Mr. Cascino removed the permanent barricades across his illegally built steel bridge over the Noster Kill and instead has installed gates that are sometimes unlocked to allow trucks through.
“The evidence showing defendants’ continued use of the bridge despite the permanent barrier requirement in the decree and despite the order in the town’s case requiring removal of the bridge satisfies this element of contempt,” the lawsuit contends.
The show cause order says Mr. Cascino will be found in criminal and civil contempt for violating the DEC consent decree if he doesn’t re-install the permanent barriers within seven days and keep them there until the bridge is removed. It calls for Mr. Cascino to be incarcerated unless he complies and fined $1,000 for contempt. It also requires him to reimburse the state attorneys’ fees for the motion. The order was signed by Judge Nichols July 17, 2015 and called for Mr. Cascino to appear in court before the judge August 21, 2015 to make his case.
Mr. Benson wrote by email this week that, “Pursuant to stipulation, the parties have until February 12, 2016 to advise the court whether the case has settled. Barring a settlement, the parties must file any motions for summary judgment by April 15, 2016.” Also he said, current attorneys for Mr. Cascino, the law firm of Cole Schotz, which has an office in New York City, filed a motion to withdraw as Mr. Cascino’s counsel.
“The court signed the order to show cause making the motion returnable on February 25, 2016. The order also states that the case is stayed until the court rules on defense counsel’s motion. The AG’s Office has “not been informed of the basis for the motion to withdraw as counsel,” said Mr. Benson.
A call to Attorney Brian Gardner at Cole Scholtz was not returned.
A case involving a DEC consent decree that Mr. Cascino signed and agreed to in 2007 but failed to abide by is also being handled by the AG.
The consent decree came about after the DEC found violations of wetlands, stream protection, storm water permitting and solid waste laws stemming from Mr. Cascino’s construction and dumping activities on his Copake Valley Farm property. The state and Mr. Cascino entered into the consent decree, which provided terms for the monetary penalties Mr. Cascino would pay and how he was going to fix things.
One of Mr. Cascino’s many illegal acts was the construction of a 30-foot wide steel bridge over the Noster Kill, a protected trout stream.
The work disturbed the bed and bank of the stream and Mr. Cascino did all the construction and damage without a DEC permit.
The bridge was built so Mr. Cascino could more conveniently illegally dump tractor trailer loads of construction and demolition debris at the site, according to state’s court documents.
Because the state was concerned that allowing the bridge to remain open would “encourage further dumping of waste material by truck, the state insisted that the bridge be permanently barricaded” in the decree.
In the 2007 case, said Mr. Benson of the AG’s office, “the court issued a decision on January 25, 2016 on the State’s motion for civil and criminal contempt regarding Cascino’s failure to keep the unlawfully constructed bridge permanently barricaded. The decision states that due to disputed factual issues, the court will schedule a hearing to further evaluate the matter. A date for the hearing has not yet been scheduled.”
Mr. Benson said there is no update on the DOT case against Mr. Cascino which involves the filing of a summons in State Supreme Court July 23, 2015 by the attorney general, which describes five locations along State Route 22 where Mr. Cascino has erected or installed fencing, gates, a boulder, access road improvements, stone retaining walls, various types of vegetation, signs, culverts, drainage structures and cement brick pillars—all on state property and without permits. The violations date back to “on or before June 1, 2009.”
And finally, a new case against Mr. Cascino is ongoing in Copake Town Court before Town Justice Glenn Schermerhorn,
“On July 15, 2015, DEC issued Mr. Cascino a ticket for operating a solid waste facility without a permit for the land spreading of leaves that had been brought to his property from downstate. The charge is a misdemeanor with a penalty range between $3,750 and $37,500,” according to an email from DEC Spokesman Rick Georgeson.
“On the same date, DEC issued two tickets to Nick Maiorano, [a truck driver working for Mr. Cascino] for the unlawful operation of a tractor trailer while license suspended (a violation with a fine of up to $900) and the illegal disposal of solid waste at an unauthorized location (a misdemeanor with a fine between $200 and $500). All the alleged offenses occurred on April 6, 2015,” he said.
A check with Columbia County District Attorney Paul Czajka revealed that Mr. Cascino’s attorney in the matter, Peter Stavropoulos of the Millerton law firm of Davis and Trotta, filed an omnibus motion December 17, 2015. The 48-page document contains numerous other motions including one for dismissal of the case for lack of evidence and calls for everything from crime scene photographs and lab analysis of the stuff dumped to determine its origin, and wants to know whether any witnesses underwent polygraph tests or will present “hypnosis or drug induced memory or testimony.”
Assistant District Attorney Ryan Carty, who is handling the case, filed his own hefty “Bill of Particulars” in response, which clarified the difference between wood and yard waste and contained a sworn statement from the Yorktown Heights Highway Superintendent and operator of an “organic recycling facility” there, who contracted with Mr. Cascino to cart away 180 yards of “leaf mulch” from Yorktown to Copake.
The matter is currently in the hands of Justice Schermerhorn.
To contact Diane Valden email