Judge puts Cascino back in jail

No evidence supports cleanup of his dumping

HUDSON—Salvatore Cascino is back behind bars.

In Columbia County Supreme Court, Friday, August 26, Mr. Cascino once again failed to provide proof that he had complied with court orders. But this time there was no reprieve.

In a matter of minutes Mr. Cascino, wearing a pair of shiny handcuffs, was escorted off to the Columbia County Jail by sheriff’s deputies.

Acting Supreme Court Judge Jonathan Nichols had slated this evidentiary hearing to give Mr. Cascino another chance to prove he had completed the court-ordered removal of 9,650 cubic yards of solid waste he had illegally dumped on his 300-acre property along the east side of Route 22 in Copake.

A convicted felon and serial scofflaw, Mr. Cascino, 76, of Larchmont in Westchester County, has spent the past 18 years racking up violations of federal, state and town laws for illegal dumping, building and excavating at a place he calls Copake Valley Farm.

In February, Judge Nichols found Mr. Cascino guilty of criminal and civil contempt and, in addition to rectifying certain unlawful actions associated with structures and dumping on his property, and 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. After 69 days in jail Judge Nichols released Mr. Cascino May 4 on the condition that he continue to remove 9,650 cubic yards of illegally dumped solid waste from the property. He was to prove to the judge that the removal was in progress during return court appearances June 30, July 19 and completed by August 8.

But when Mr. Cascino returned to court August 8 for what was supposed to be the final of three follow-up court appearances in connection with the February criminal and civil contempt convictions, he arrived an hour late and did not produce the required dump receipts or affidavits to document his claim that he had hauled away all the offending waste as ordered by the judge.

The proceedings also included statements by Mr. Cascino’s attorney that cast doubt on the validity of all the receipts Mr. Cascino had previously submitted as evidence to show he was making progress on the waste removal.

Representing Mr. Cascino at that appearance was attorney Nolan E. Shanahan, who was standing in for his usual attorney, Brian Gardner. Both lawyers are with the Cole Schotz law firm in New York City.

Mr. Shanahan told the court he had contacted at least two of the facilities where Mr. Cascino claimed to have disposed of the solid waste and was told by the people in charge that the amounts of material and the disposal dates indicated on the paperwork from Mr. Cascino did not match company records or that the material had not been dumped at that location.

We could not in good conscience submit anything to the court solely based on an affidavit signed by Mr. Cascino,” said Mr. Shanahan during the August 8 appearance. He added, “We could not discount what the other people had said.”

The judge then gave Mr. Cascino until August 26 to produce the required proof and when the parties returned to court that day, Judge Nichols called on Mr. Gardner to demonstrate that his client had “purged his contempt.”

The judge noted that Mr. Cascino had dropped off some documents with a court clerk August 22. But Judge Nichols had not reviewed the documents and he said that had Mr. Cascino not provided copies to Victor Meyers, the attorney representing the Town of Copake.

Mr. Gardner began by noting that he was not in court with Mr. Cascino August 8 and that he still has a motion pending seeking to be relieved as Mr. Cascino’s attorney.

That motion has not been granted,” said Judge Nichols.

Mr. Gardner then said that the new lawyer Mr. Cascino might want to use was in the room, but the judge said that no notice of appearance had been filed by new counsel.

Although Mr. Gardner mentioned the new counsel several more times, Judge Nichols told him that this was “no time for excuses” and that that he had already given Mr. Cascino an additional three weeks to comply.

The judge again reminded Mr. Gardner that a notice of appearance as required by Criminal Procedure Law (CPL) for the substitution of counsel had not been filed. “Today is the day for proof,” said Judge Nichols.

Mr. Gardner told the court that Mr. Cascino desires to switch attorneys and that he has had no communication with Mr. Cascino since his client’s last court appearance.

Again Judge Nichols said, “I’m asking you politely to move forward with the proof.”

Mr. Gardner said “I am betwixt and between” and that Mr. Cascino would be better served by representing himself. The attorney said he could not call witnesses, submit documents, affidavits or motions on his client’s behalf due to “ethical constraints.”

Judge Nichols said that if Mr. Gardner was unable to go forward, would present no proof, and in light of revelations that previously submitted receipts were “I believe the term was bogus” he was lifting the suspension of Mr. Cascino’s incarceration and ordered him recommitted to the county jail.

The judge then adjourned the hearing. It was all over in about 15 minutes and Mr. Cascino remained stone-faced.

As of press time August 31, Mr. Cascino was still an inmate at the county jail.

Judge Nichols’ February ruling, which landed Mr. Cascino in jail the first time, called for him to stay in jail until all the required tasks were completed and the violations resolved. After the hay barn expansion construction and a five-foot section of a 15-foot-high concrete retaining wall were taken down and removed and Copake’s legal fees paid as ordered, all that remained to be done was the hauling away of the 9,650 cubic yards of illegally dumped unrecognizable and non-exempt material constituting solid waste from the premises.

During his May 4 court appearance, Mr. Cascino convinced the judge he was well on his way to complying with the solid waste removal order. Mr. Cascino’s son, Peter, testified that had been overseeing the removal of the waste while his father was in jail. When it was determined based on quantities written on “dump tickets” that 2,045 cubic yards of material had been removed, Judge Nichols released Mr. Cascino after 69 days in jail to facilitate the removal process.

For Mr. Cascino to get out now, his attorney, whoever that ultimately is, would have to file a motion seeking his release on some basis.

The judge could decide to have a hearing on Mr. Gardner’s motion to be relieved of duty or he could make a decision based on information he already has.

Mr. Cascino could also simply retain someone else to represent him and Mr. Gardner’s motion would be moot, according to Mr. Meyers.

A call to the Albany law firm mentioned in court was not returned by press time.

In the meantime, Mr. Cascino, in his jail attire and escorted by Sheriff’s deputies, made a brief appearance in Copake Town Court Wednesday morning for a pre-trial conference in connection with a July 2015 Department of Environmental Conservation-issued ticket for operating a solid waste facility without a permit for the alleged land-spreading of leaves he trucked to his property from downstate.

Columbia County District Attorney Paul Czajka told The Columbia Paper that Mr. Cascino’s trial on the DEC matter is set to begin September 14. Mr. Cascino is represented by the Millerton law firm of Davis and Trotta.

Another ongoing case involving Mr. Cascino’s illegal dumping in federal wetlands along Route 22 seems to be stalled due to Mr. Cascino’s incarceration.

U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Project Manager with the Upstate New York Regulatory Field Office, George Casey said by phone this week that he met August 17 with Mr. Cascino and his consultants from Middleton Environmental Inc, a firm in Babylon, Long Island, which offers the services of environmental planners, engineers and architects. The firm’s website says, “staff includes individuals with extensive experience in industry, local government and environmental problem solving, involving federal, state and local laws.”

Mr. Casey said the firm is working on a plan for the restoration of the wetlands in response to an April Department of the Army letter ordering Mr. Cascino “to immediately Cease and Desist any further work in the waters of the United States.” An inspection by the Army Corps found that Mr. Cascino was putting fill in US waters “including wetlands, without prior authorization from this office…in violation of statutes and regulations,” such as the Clean Water Act.

Mr. Casey said he was hoping to receive the plan by the end of August, but until his consultants can find a way to communicate with Mr. Cascino in jail, he expected there would be a delay.

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