Contempt ruling leaves much debris in place
HUDSON—After years of gaming the system, Salvatore Cascino may have run out of luck. Mr. Cascino is now an inmate at the Columbia County Jail.
During an appearance in Columbia County Supreme Court the morning of February 25, Acting Supreme Court Judge Jonathan Nichols ordered Mr. Cascino to spend some time behind bars for criminal and civil contempt of court.
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 in Copake. He calls the place Copake Valley Farm and for nearly two decades, Mr. Cascino has been racking up violations of federal, state and town laws for illegal dumping, building and excavating there.
The attorney representing the Town of Copake in ongoing lawsuits against Mr. Cascino, Victor Meyers, told The Columbia Paper in a phone interview last Thursday, February 25, that he was called to come to court that morning.
Mr. Meyers said that Mr. Cascino’s attorney, Brian Gardner, had earlier made application to Judge Nichols asking to be removed as Mr. Cascino’s attorney. The judge had asked Mr. Gardner to “show cause” why he should grant the application. Mr. Meyers said he knew about the hearing but saw no reason that he needed to be there.
In court, Mr. Gardner told the judge he and his client, Mr. Cascino, had patched up their differences related to communication and payment for Mr. Gardner’s services and that he now wanted to continue as Mr. Cascino’s attorney.
After Mr. Gardner spoke, Judge Nichols announced that he had a Decision and Order all the parties would be interested in: his ruling on the two outstanding Orders to Show Cause dated January 30 and May 29, 2013 brought by the Town of Copake asking that Mr. Cascino be found in contempt of court for his failure to comply with numerous orders previously issued by the judge in connection with Mr. Cascino’s illegal activities in Copake.
Mr. Cascino, 13 Lackawanna Properties, LLC and Copake Valley Farm, LLC are all named as defendants in the lawsuits.
The 29-page ruling, which has been two-years in the making, is a mixed bag of findings, favorable and not favorable to Copake, on multiple matters the Town of Copake set out to prove and have remedied during court hearings back in July, August and December 2013.
The bottom line is Judge Nichols found Mr. Cascino guilty of both criminal and civil contempt for his “longstanding contumacious disregard of lawful mandates” and ordered him to spend at least 60 days in the Columbia County Jail, to rectify certain wrongs associated with structures and dumping on his property, to pay fines in the amount of $500 and reimburse Copake for legal fees expended in bringing suit against him.
The ruling indicates Mr. Cascino must remain in jail until the violations are resolved.
Judge Nichols ordered sheriff’s deputies to handcuff Mr. Cascino in the courtroom and take him to jail—right then and there, Mr. Meyers said.
Mr. Gardner sought to stave off the order by pleading for time for Mr. Cascino to get his affairs in order and fetch his medications. But the judge would not hear of it.
Mr. Cascino’s expression was “emotionless” throughout the procedure, said Mr. Meyers.
In a follow-up phone call Wednesday, Mr. Meyers said that Mr. Gardner has filed a notice of appeal with the appellate division for a stay of the sentence while the appeal is pending. Mr. Meyers said he must make submissions on the matter by Friday, March 4 and plans to oppose the motion “given [Mr. Cascino’s] his past history.”
Though Mr. Cascino remains in the Columbia County lock-up, according to a check with jail officials at noon Wednesday, March 2, the judge’s decision is by no means a slam-dunk for Copake.
Judge Nichols took the Town to task for failure “to provide any sufficient reason for its inexplicable delay” in seeking relief in connection Mr. Cascino’s failure to abide by the judge’s June 12, 2009 court order. Judge Nichols said he found the town’s argument that the 2009 order “was inextricably intertwined” with a subsequent 2011 judgment “completely unconvincing.”
Commenting on the decision, Mr. Meyers said there is no statute of limitations on contempt, making the time frame for the lawsuit irrelevant.
On the plus side for Copake, the judge found it “more unconvincing” that the “delay in some way inures to the Defendant’s benefit and defense of contemptuous conduct,” as asserted by Mr. Gardner.
With regard to other issues, the judge found that the town:
*Proved beyond a reasonable doubt that Mr. Cascino failed to remove the stone wall in compliance with the Court’s Order. The judge accordingly lifted the suspension of the 30-day incarceration sentence imposed back in 2009 for “willfully” failing to comply with the order to remove the stone wall and ordered him to start serving that time immediately consecutive to the 30 days he must now serve in connection with the judge’s most recent findings of contempt
*Failed to present proof beyond a reasonable doubt that Mr. Cascino was in contempt for failure to remove aspects of the farm stand. Edward Ferratto, the town’s building inspector/code enforcement officer, “was unable to provide testimony to discern whether the farm stand” was ever returned to its pre-2006 condition. In fact, the judge noted that former building inspector Ralph Shadic had issued Mr. Cascino a building permit in August 2011. Judge Nichols did find sufficient proof that Mr. Cascino continued construction on the farm stand in violation of a stop work order issued July 2012 by Mr. Ferratto and “permanently enjoined” Mr. Cascino from doing any more construction work on the farm stand, occupying it or operating it until all required permits are obtained from the town. Mr. Cascino also cannot use the illegally constructed roadway entrance from the farm stand to Route 22
*Failed to prove that Mr. Cascino did not remove 150,000 cubic yards of debris “long ago” ordered removed by the court. Mr. Ferratto told the court he did “not believe” all the material was removed. But the town provided no other proof on the matter.
*Failed to provide proof that Mr. Cascino did not submit a plan for the removal of the illegally constructed steel bridge to the Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) or that DEC approved a bridge removal plan or that Mr. Cascino failed to remove the bridge within 90 days of DEC approval of the plan.
While the judge notes that “it is evident that the steel bridge was not removed” by Mr. Cascino “that is not the sole issue” before him on the town’s contempt applications.
With regard to both the 150,000 cubic of illegally dumped material and the steel bridge, Mr. Meyers said he disagreed with the court’s position that required the town to “prove a negative.” He said Mr. Cascino had been required to remove the debris and the bridge. “It was never an issue that the bridge was not removed,” said Mr. Meyers. As for the debris, he questioned how the town was supposed to prove that it had not been removed. “Should we have hired someone to sit there 24/7 and watch?” He said it was Mr. Cascino’s burden to prove that the debris had been removed.
Mr. Cascino is still prevented from using the illegally built bridge because it is part of an ongoing lawsuit brought by the State Attorney General’s Office on behalf of the DEC, Mr. Meyers noted.
Judge Nichols did find proof beyond a reasonable doubt that Mr. Cascino had illegally engaged in expansion of the “hay barn” without a building permit, establishing both civil and criminal contempt. He directed Mr. Cascino to remove the construction which involved the placement of steel posts or columns in the ground alongside the storage building and the placement of 14- to 20-foot high I-beams in the ground.
The judge found that Mr. Cascino illegally constructed a concrete retaining wall to a height of 15-feet, 5-feet in excess of the permitted height and ordered that he remove the unauthorized 5-feet “forthwith.”
The town also established beyond a reasonable doubt that Mr. Cascino had dumped and excavated 9,650 cubic yards of unrecognizable and non-exempt material, constituting solid waste, and he must remove it from the premises.
Copake Supervisor Jeff Nayer said he will withhold comment for the time being on the long-awaited judge’s ruling on advice of counsel.
Copake Councilman Stanley “Stosh” Gansowski, a close neighbor of the Cascino property, told The Columbia Paper Wednesday that he is “very disappointed” by the ruling. He said that Mr. Cascino is in jail is of little consequence.
He said the judge’s refusal to order the removal of the bridge continues to leave local dairy farmer Fred Barringer without a convenient and direct route to property he uses on the east side of Route 22. If the bridge is removed the path the farmer used to travel over the Noster Kill before the bridge was illegally built could be restored. But now he must continue taking a circuitous route around.
Mr. Gansowski is also upset that the 150,000 cubic yards of debris was not ordered removed from the wetlands. “Do we really know what’s in the material that’s sitting on top of the water table?”
Attorney Gardner did not return a call for comment on his client’s behalf.
State DEC and Department of Transportation cases against Mr. Cascino are still ongoing in State Supreme and Town courts.
To contact Diane Valden email