Copake questions ‘paper trail’ Cascino offers judge
HUDSON—Salvatore Cascino was back in court this week, where he failed to provide all the documentation the judge had asked him for as proof of his compliance with court orders.
In this latest round Mr. Cascino was represented by Nolan E. Shanahan, a lawyer standing in for his usual attorney, Brian Gardner, both from the Cole Schotz law firm in New York City. Along with attorney Victor Meyers, who represented the Town of Copake, they appeared in Columbia County Supreme Court July 19 before Acting Supreme Court Judge Jonathan Nichols.
It was one of several follow-up appearances scheduled for Mr. Cascino to provide updates on the progress of the court-ordered removal of 9,650 cubic yards of solid waste Mr. Cascino illegally dumped on his 300-acre Copake property.
A convicted felon and serial scofflaw, Mr. Cascino, 76, of Larchmont in Westchester County, has been racking up violations of federal, state and town laws for the past 18 years for illegal dumping, building and excavating on his property along the east side of state Route 22.
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.
That ruling came in connection with two outstanding orders to show cause from early 2013 brought by the Town of Copake based on his failure to comply with numerous orders previously issued by the court. And 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 the removal is happening during return court appearances June 30, July 19 and August 8.
Though Mr. Cascino had tried to get the most recent court date postponed because his attorney, Mr. Gardner is away on vacation, Judge Nichols would not allow it.
Mr. Cascino provided an inch-thick pile of “tickets” or receipts for the deposit of truckloads of the offending material.
After thumbing through the stack of tickets and adding up the weight/amount of the material listed, Judge Nichols came to the conclusion that 7,820 cubic yards had so far been removed and that 1,830 cubic yards remained to go. He noted that with the benefit of decent weather Mr. Cascino should have no problem accomplishing the task by the August 8 deadline.
But Mr. Meyers was skeptical of the amounts and receipts noting that some of the new tickets dated back to May, a timeframe for which tickets had already been submitted.
He also said some of the copies submitted earlier were illegible and that prior to this July 19 appearance Mr. Cascino was supposed to have provided affirmations or affidavits about who the truck drivers were, the quantities they transported and where the loads were taken which could be matched with the tickets to confirm what was actually going on.
Mr. Meyers again noted that anecdotal observations by Town Supervisor Jeff Nayer and Town Councilman Stosh Gansowski, a Cascino neighbor, provide “no evidence of any truck activity, no trucks going in and out, no piles” being prepared for transport.
Judge Nichols, who had asked for the affirmation documentation during the June 30 appearance, noted, “You make a valid point, the things I asked for were not delivered.”
Invoking the Reagan mantra, “Trust, but verify,” Judge Nichols said he “trusted what I’ve seen submitted to me” but also required the additional verification.
“Mr. Cascino could pay a heavy price if this information is not accurate,” said the judge.
Mr. Cascino said he gave the supporting documentation in question to Mr. Gardner before the attorney went on vacation.
Mr. Shanahan begged for the court’s indulgence until August 8 to provide the documentation.
But Judge Nichols said he would allow the attorney only until July 29 to submit the affirmation(s) and wanted the receipts attached to them. He also asked for legible receipt copies.
In response to a question from the judge, Mr. Shanahan said Mr. Gardner would be back by the August 8 appearance date. Judge Nichols said on that date he would schedule a hearing on the Town of Copake’s outstanding orders to show cause why Mr. Cascino should not be held in contempt for constructing three garage-type structures without permits in 2014. The hearing date would be sometime in September the judge said.
In the meantime Mr. Gardner has petitioned the court seeking to be relieved as Mr. Cascino’s attorney due to communications and payment difficulties. Judge Nichols has not yet ruled on the petition.
Attorney Meyers told The Columbia Paper this week that Mr. Cascino paid the $23,000 in attorney’s fees owed to the Town of Copake by the July 15 deadline.
U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Project Manager with the Upstate New York Regulatory Field Office, George Casey, said by phone this week, that his office has been in “continuing dialog with Mr. Cascino” regarding the illegal dumping and filling in of the federal wetlands along the east side of Route 22 from November 2015 to May of this year. Mr. Casey said he hopes to have reached “an appropriate settlement,” perhaps by mid-August.
The state Office of the Attorney General represents the DEC in an ongoing legal action against Mr. Cascino for a consent decree violation for, among other things, 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.
And in bridge-related news, Councilman Gansowski announced at the July 14 Copake Town Board meeting, that as a private concerned citizen he met with representatives of Trout Unlimited (TU), a nationwide organization with the mission to conserve, protect and restore North America’s coldwater fisheries and their watersheds.
Mr. Gansowski said TU is confident it can get a grant for a “ford crossing bridge” to be installed adjacent to Mr. Cascino’s illegally constructed steel bridge over the Noster Kill.
The new installation would allow dairy farmer Fred Barringer to cross the Noster Kill instead of travelling a mile to reach farmland on the other side.
Mr. Barringer had been able to cross the stream prior to Mr. Cascino’s illegal bridge being built, but his route across the stream was subsequently washed out because of the Cascino bridge construction.
Mr. Gansowski said the ford bridge crossing involves the clearing out of what is now blocking the stream and the placement of big stones and gravel, which would allow the farmer to driver through the stream, while at the same time allowing the stream to flow and the fish to swim freely.
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