Judge agrees to free Cascino

HUDSON—Salvatore Cascino got out of jail Wednesday, May 4 after convincing the judge he was well on his way to complying with court orders.

He must return to court June 6, July 18 and August 8 to report in on his continuing progress.

Mr. Cascino, who arrived in Columbia County State Supreme Court with a sheriff’s deputy escort from the Columbia County Jail where he has spent the last 69 days, wore a black and white striped jumpsuit. His wrists were handcuffed and the handcuffs were chained to a thick leather belt around his waist. His ankles were also chained causing him to shuffle.

Mr. Cascino, 76, of Larchmont, a village in Westchester County, was jailed February 25 after being found guilty of criminal and civil contempt by Acting Supreme Court Judge Jonathan Nichols.

The long-awaited ruling came in connection with two outstanding orders to show cause dated January 30 and March 29, 2013 brought by the Town of Copake, which sought to have the judge find Mr. Cascino in contempt for his failure to comply with numerous orders previously issued by the judge to remedy Mr. Cascino’s illegal activities in Copake.

Mr. Cascino, a convicted felon and perennial scofflaw, 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, he has been racking up violations of federal, state and town laws for illegal dumping, building and excavating there.

In his February decision, Judge Nichols ordered Mr. Cascino to spend at least 60 days in the Columbia County Jail, to rectify certain violations 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 indicated Mr. Cascino must remain in jail until the violations are resolved, which may exceed the consecutive periods of incarceration (30 days plus 30 days) ordered.

The tasks Judge Nichols ordered completed before Mr. Cascino can get out of jail are:

•To remove the hay barn (storage building) expansion 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

•To remove a five-foot high section of a 15-foot-high concrete retaining wall that Mr. Cascino illegally constructed without required permits

•To remove 9,650 cubic yards of illegally dumped unrecognizable and non-exempt material, constituting solid waste, from the premises.

Judge Nichols summarized the situation as it now stands. He said that Mr. Cascino has served the 60 days necessary to satisfy the criminal contempt ruling, but the civil contempt “is why we are here this morning.”

Both Brian Gardner, Mr. Cascino’s attorney, and Carl Whitbeck, the attorney for the Town of Copake, agreed that both the steel beams and the five-feet of excess height on the retaining wall had been removed—all that remained in question was the removal of 9,650 cubic yards of illegally dumped material.

Mr. Gardner said that both Peter Cascino, 41, Sal Cascino’s son, and David Wiener, Mr. Cascino’s longtime assistant, had been overseeing the removal of the debris during Sal Cascino’s stay in jail.

Mr. Gardner said the state Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) had been cooperative in delineating where the material in question had to removed from.

Mr. Gardner said Peter Cascino had no interest in Sal Cascino’s farm activities but had stepped in after his father was incarcerated to try to get things done. At that time, Mr. Wiener was apparently incapacitated due to an unspecified injury. He is still recovering.

Peter Cascino took the stand and testified that while the initial tasks had been accomplished quickly, the removal of the debris had proved more time-consuming and involved finding a trucking firm to move the stuff and finding a DEC-approved licensed facility to accept it. The DEC also directed that a silt-fence be installed around the debris site, which is apparently in a wetland, to prevent run-off.

Evidence that at least some of the debris has been removed was presented in the form of “dump tickets,” which supposedly document each load and the truck that hauled it away.

But on cross examination of Peter Cascino, Mr. Whitbeck raised questions about exactly what measurement was being used to calibrate the amount of a load, since sometimes it was listed on the tickets in tons, sometimes pounds and sometimes yards. Peter Cascino admitted that he did not know how many pounds or tons were contained in a cubic yard.

Mr. Whitbeck also took issue with the characterization of the material on the tickets as “clean dirt” since the material was identified as solid waste in the judge’s decision.

There were also photos of the site being excavated which Peter Cascino identified, though there was some confusion about whether the material being removed had been ordered removed by the judge or by the DEC and whether the two were intermingled.

Peter Cascino testified that after some initial bumps in the road, three tractor trailer dump trucks (owned by Copake Valley Farm) were now removing six loads of material per day.

After taking a recess to allow Peter Cascino to tally up the amounts on the dump tickets, the younger Mr. Cascino told the judge he had calculated that 2,045 cubic yards have been removed.

Mr. Whitbeck questioned the total since Peter Cascino had admitted not being familiar with terminology on the tickets, some of which were admittedly duplicated on another piece of evidence.

Mr. Gardner said that the town had agreed to stipulate that 1,200 yards had been removed. The defense attorney then added some additional number to that, which he said was noted on another document, but the two sides did not agree.

After adjourning for lunch and asking everyone to return to make summations at 1:30 p.m., Judge Nichols said he would decide the matter at 3:30 p.m.

Judge Nichols agreed that 2,045 cubic yards of material has so far been removed and it is reasonable to assume that Mr. Cascino will be able to remove 600 cubic yards a week until he is finished.

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