HUDSON—Salvatore Cascino and his latest attorney were back in Columbia County Supreme Court Monday, May 8 to ask the judge to schedule a hearing so they can present evidence to try to convince the court Mr. Cascino should be let out of jail.
Several prior attempts at getting the convicted felon and serial scofflaw sprung have failed.
Mr. Cascino, 77, of Larchmont in Westchester County, has spent the past 19 years racking up violations of federal, state and town laws for illegal dumping, building and excavating at a place he calls Copake Valley Farm, along the east side of Route 22 in Copake.
Mr. Cascino has been behind bars for 258 consecutive days (August 26, 2016 to May 11) for his failure to obey a court order to remove 9,650 cubic yards of illegally dumped solid waste from his 300-acre Copake property.
Mr. Cascino spent an additional 69 days in the clink between February 25 and May 4, 2016 after Columbia County Acting Supreme Court Judge Jonathan Nichols found him guilty of both criminal and civil contempt in connection with two court actions brought by the Town of Copake.
The judge cited Mr. Cascino’s “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 illegally-built structures and unlawful dumping on his property, to pay fines and reimburse Copake for legal fees expended in bringing suit against him. The February 2016 ruling indicated Mr. Cascino must remain in jail until the violations are resolved.
The judge released Mr. Cascino May 4, 2016 so he could continue the removal of the offending material and report back about it on specific dates. But when Mr. Cascino failed to provide the required proof that he had “purged his contempt” by completing the removal task, Judge Nichols sent him back to the slammer August 26, 2016, where he has been ever since. He has been in jail for a total 327 days and counting since February 2016.
In court Monday, Judge Nichols set the requested hearing date for May 18 at 9:30 a.m.
Attorney Victor Meyers, who represents Copake in its legal actions against Mr. Cascino, requested that Town officials be allowed to inspect the property prior to the hearing.
When the judge turned to Mr. Cascino’s attorney, Martin Bonventre, for a response, Mr. Bonventre said, “It’s not whether Mr. Cascino’s contempt has been purged, but whether we can prove it has been purged.”
The attorney questioned what options he had left since he has so far been unable to demonstrate to the court’s satisfaction that he has followed the judge’s orders. The receipts his client had presented as evidence that the illegal material had been disposed of at another location have been discredited, “though we believe they are valid,” he said, indicating that he intends to put “the truck driver who drove the stuff to Recycle Depot” on the stand.
Mr. Bonventre told the judge that “it serves no purpose to keep [Mr. Cascino] in jail” as he has shown “his willingness to resolve matters.”
Insisting that the material has been removed, Mr. Bonventre said, “We can’t go back in time to better document the removal process.” He told the judge “it is purely punitive” to keep his client locked up and “not the purpose of contempt.”
He said that the “few pieces of material” that Copake officials had previously found on the property, documented and presented as evidence that Mr. Cascino had not purged his contempt were not shown to be part of the material that Mr. Cascino had originally illegally hauled in and dumped there from New York Recycling in the Bronx.
Mr. Bonventre insisted that his client has removed the illegal material, provided receipts as evidence and offered a report from an environmental consulting firm that the soil samples from the Cascino site do not contain contaminants found in material from recycling facilities. “We have done everything we can, there is nothing left for us to do,” he said, reiterating, it is improper to keep his client incarcerated.
Judge Nichols noted that Mr. Bonventre’s first step should be to provide evidence that the facilities where Mr. Cascino disposed of the material were licensed by the state Department of Environmental Conservation to accept it. And if they were licensed, why wouldn’t they have provided proper receipts and Mr. Cascino insisted on accurate records of the transactions especially, since Mr. Cascino knew his staying out of jail depended on it.
Mr. Bonventre argued that Mr. Cascino was having some issues with his previous counsel at the time and that he was not involved. The judge told the attorney that his client should be able to tell him why he did not have valid necessary proof.
Mr. Bonventre again asserted that the material in question had been moved despite town officials’ discovery of “a few pieces of plastic.” But Judge Nichols replied, “It defies common sense that you can’t prove it.”
Mr. Cascino’s attorney then asked that his client be released from jail pending the May 18 hearing so they can better work together to prepare their case.
Mr. Meyers opposed the request for release and again asked for permission for the town to visit the property and the judge again sought an answer from Mr. Bonventre, who said, “I do not think [such a visit] will be fruitful” if they are going to search all over the place and come back with “a small handful of plastic that is completely irrelevant.”
The judge said it was his understanding that town officials had not looked all over the place, but just at the designated dumping area. He then declined the request for Mr. Cascino’s release, noting that Mr. Cascino had previously “been released for an extended period” of time and had returned with a bunch of “bogus” receipts.
“I’ll see you on the 18th.” said the judge.
Mr. Cascino’s son, Peter, who had been sitting in the courtroom with three other Cascino supporters, then stood up, and walked out, stating that his father has spent “a year in jail for nothing.”
In other Cascino matters, the Town is still waiting for Mr. Cascino to apply for building permits on the three illegally built structures as agreed in a March settlement with the town. Mr. Cascino has 60 days to comply, which ends May 26.
Mr. Cascino’s sentencing on a conviction in Town Court for operating a solid waste management facility without a permit, a misdemeanor under State Environmental Conservation Law, was postponed again April 24, while his attorney files motions.
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the state DEC still have pending cases against Mr. Cascino for illegal dumping in federal wetlands and failure to comply with prior remediation agreements. He also has state Department of Transportation violations for building within the state right-of-way without permits that have never been resolved.
NOTE: Following the May 8 court appearance Copake officials were granted permission to inspect the property and Mr. Cascino hired a new attorney.
To contact Diane Valden email