Some dirt’s gone, but where’d it go?

Judge gives Cascino another breather on compliance

HUDSON—Salvatore Cascino did not get rid of as much illegally dumped solid waste as the judge had hoped, but he’s done enough to stay out of jail.

The Town of Copake and Mr. Cascino were back in Columbia County Supreme Court June 30 before Acting Supreme Court Judge Jonathan Nichols so Mr. Cascino could provide proof and an update on his compliance with a court order.

Mr. Cascino did offer some documents that he said proved he had removed waste from his property, but the town’s attorney told the court that local officials suspect Mr. Cascino may have moved the illegal waste from one part of his property to another.

The latest round in the Cascino saga began with a May 4 order from Judge Nichols that suspended Mr. Cascino’s incarceration on civil contempt contingent upon his removal of a specific amount of illegally dumped material from his 300-acre Copake property, known as Copake Valley Farm.

A convicted felon and serial scofflaw, Mr. Cascino, 76, of Larchmont, a Village in the Town of Mamaroneck, Westchester County, has been racking up violations of federal, state and town laws for illegal dumping, building and excavating on his property along the east side of Route 22 for the past 18 years.

Judge Nichols found Mr. Cascino guilty of criminal and civil contempt February 25 and in addition to rectifying certain unlawful actions associated with structures and dumping on his property, paying fines and reimbursing Copake for legal fees, the judge ordered him to spend at least 60 days in the Columbia County Jail.

The ruling came in connection with two outstanding orders to show cause from early 2013 brought by the Town of Copake, which sought to have Mr. Cascino found in contempt for his failure to comply with numerous orders previously issued by the court.

After 69 days in jail, Judge Nichols released Mr. Cascino May 4 on the condition that he continue to remove a total of 9,650 cubic yards of illegally dumped solid waste from the property. He was to prove to the judge that is happening during return court appearances June 6, July 19 and August 8.

The June 6 appearance was postponed twice until June 30 due to conflicts in the judge’s calendar.

When all parties assembled in the courtroom Thursday morning, Judge Nichols noted that he had not received any “bills of lading” or receipts in advance of the hearing to show that any amount of material had been trucked from the Cascino property to a facility qualified to receive it.

Instead of giving the documentation to his lawyer, Brian Gardner, so he could provide it prior to the proceedings to the court and to Victor Meyers, Copake’s attorney, Mr. Cascino instead brought the “tickets” with him to court that day.

The judge directed Mr. Gardner to a copier in the library and told him to make five copies of each one. Proceedings were delayed for an hour until this was done.

Mr. Gardner also had to tabulate the total cubic yards based on weights listed on the pile of tickets to determine the total amount of material moved.

As of May 4 the documents indicated that 2,045 yards had been removed and the judge expected that Mr Cascino should be able to move 600 yards/week thereafter. But Mr. Gardner could only account a total of 4,780 yards based on the ticket numbers. The attorney said an additional 1,000 yards had been removed but the accompanying ticket stubs had not yet been received.

By now the judge had expected to see that a total of 6,845 yards had been disposed of over the past eight weeks.

Mr. Gardner said that while the state Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) was not controlling the removal process, the agency had intervened because it “disagreed with where we were bringing the material and we had to find a new location.” He said the material had been going to Albany and it was now going to the Bronx.

Copake Attorney Meyers expressed displeasure had having just received the ticket copies and complained that the copies were illegible, not signed, did not state cubic yards but instead indicated weight in pounds, which he had not had a chance to analyze or calculate how much that is in cubic yards.

Mr. Meyers said that while the town is not in a position to station someone at the Cascino property 24/7 to watch what Mr. Cascino is doing, observations by Town Supervisor Jeff Nayer and Councilman Stosh Gansowski, who is a Cascino neighbor, indicate that the material in question is not being trucked off the property but is rather being transferred to a different location on the property. “There has been very little truck activity,” Mr. Meyers said.

Mr. Meyers asked for documentation listing drivers’ names, dates and numbers of loads per day that could be matched with the tickets. He said with the current system it is very difficult to verify what is going on.

Judge Nichols said the request was not unreasonable and that Mr. Cascino or his representative should provide that information.

The judge said he would take the proof of compliance that Mr. Cascino had so far submitted “at face value.” He said Mr. Cascino is still under suspension of his civil incarceration and if the judge finds that the information presented “is untrue” he will be subject to “heavy penalty.” He also noted that while the removal of material is not being done on as “aggressive a schedule as I laid out” it is still “substantial.” Completion of the materials removal is still expected by August 6. “I want to be clear, I decide if Mr. Cascino goes back to jail,” said the judge.

The judge also ordered that town officials be allowed to inspect the premises by giving Mr. Cascino two hours prior notice.

Judge Nichols then noted that he had received another petition from Mr. Gardner asking to be relieved as Mr. Cascino’s counsel with regard to proceedings involving the town and the DEC.

Mr. Gardner told the court there were “communications and payment difficulties” between Mr. Cascino and himself.

Mr. Cascino told the court, “We have a love/hate relationship.”

The judge said he had reviewed Mr. Gardner’s submissions and would “not issue any stays based on what I read.” Mr. Gardner must continue to represent Mr. Cascino until at least August 8, when both cases have return court dates.

On to other matters of money, Mr. Meyers told the court that Mr. Cascino had not yet paid the $250 fine he was ordered to pay within 15 days of the judge’s February 25 decision.

There was apparently some confusion over where to pay the fine—the office of the County Clerk or the County Treasurer. Mr. Gardner insisted that he and his client had “tried to pay” at one of those places, but were told they would not accept the payment. “We literally could not figure out who to pay.”

Mr. Meyers suggested the fine could be paid to the Town of Copake, which would gladly accept it along with the $23,000 in legal fees Mr. Cascino has been ordered to pay by July 15.

Mr. Cascino said he needs more time to pay the legal fees because it is costing him “a half a million dollars to get rid of this stuff” referring to his illegally dumped solid waste.

Attorney Meyers said that if the money is not received he would initiate a Sheriff’s sale of Mr. Cascino’s property.

In another Cascino matter, a jury trial has been scheduled in Copake Town Court, September 14 at 9 a.m. before Town Justice Glenn Schermerhorn.

The trial will address a July 15, 2015, DEC-issued ticket charging Mr. Cascino with operating a solid waste facility without a permit for the land spreading of leaves that he brought to his property from downstate. The charge is a misdemeanor with a penalty range between $3,750 and $37,500.

On the same date, the 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.

Mr. Cascino is represented in that matter by Peter Stavropoulos of the Millerton law firm of Davis and Trotta, and Columbia County Assistant District Attorney Trevor O. Flike will prosecute.

The state Office of the Attorney General, represents the DEC in an ongoing legal action against Mr. Cascino for a consent decree violation for removing permanent barricades blocking the use of his illegally built steel bridge over the Noster Kill, a protected trout stream.

The attorney general’s motion for partial summary judgment remains before Judge Nichols. Mr. Gardner’s motion to withdraw as Cascino counsel and a separate request for more time to respond to the AG’s motion for partial summary judgment are still pending in Columbia County Supreme Court.

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