HUDSON—Salvatore Cascino has spent such a long time hiding the solid waste he illegally dumped in Copake, that now he can’t seem to find it.
Mr. Cascino and his attorney Greg Lubow were back in Columbia County Supreme Court August 23 for the continuation of a court review to determine if Mr. Cascino had yet obeyed Judge Jonathan Nichol’s order and “purged his contempt” by removing 9,650 cubic yards of illegally dumped solid waste from his 300-acre property along the east side of Route 22 in Copake.
The short answer is—No.
A guest of the Columbia County Jail for more than a year now, 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.
Mr. Cascino was found guilty of criminal and civil contempt by Acting Supreme Court Judge Nichols in February 2016 in connection with two court actions brought against him by the Town of Copake for his illegal activities there.
His sentence was 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 judge’s decision indicates Mr. Cascino must remain in jail until the violations are resolved.
For 439 days since February 2016, 370 of them consecutive as of August 31, Mr. Cascino has been a jail inmate because he has failed to obey the part of the judge’s order that calls for him to remove 9,650 cubic yards of illegally dumped solid waste described as “unrecognizable” … “pulverized… crushed to the point where it is very small, very fine and cannot be readily identified by the human eye.” The material was also found to contain “pieces of wire, metal, plastic, piping and adulterated wood,” according to the testimony of state Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) Investigator Jesse Paluch noted in the judge’s February 2016 order.
The town’s building inspector/code enforcement officer in 2013 testified that the material he saw on the Cascino property was “construction debris” containing new wood chips, red brick, plastic, plastic pipe, copper wire and steel pipe, which is also referenced in the judge’s decision.
Attorney Lubow called Peter Cascino, Sal Cascino’s son, to the stand August 23 to testify about the delivery sheets or receipts presented as evidence in court that 8,100 cubic yards of the offending solid waste had been removed from the Cascino property and hauled by truck to Meadow Farm in South Lee, MA. Meadow Farm is a composting facility that accepts residential and commercial lawn and yard waste; residential and commercial wood waste, including brush, logs and stumps; commercial cardboard; agricultural waste and commercial food waste and converts it into mulch, compost or topsoil which it then sells, according to its website: http://meadowfarmllc.com. It is not a licensed solid waste disposal facility.
Peter Cascino said he did not fill out the Meadow Farm receipts which bore the delivery date; the delivered material, in this case “soil mix”; the amount of cubic yards delivered; the name of the trucking company and the truck number. Peter Cascino told the court that someone at Meadow Farm filled out the receipts and gave them to the truck drivers, who brought them back to Copake Valley Farm. Peter Cascino said he paid Meadow Farm $15/cubic yard delivered based on the amounts indicated on the receipts.
Since the receipts total about 8,100 cubic yards, that would mean Peter Cascino paid about $121,500 to Meadow Farm for disposal of the material.
Had all the material described in the court order been properly disposed of at a facility licensed to take it, the cost would have been over $1.4 million, according to cost information The Columbia Paper obtained from such a facility earlier this month.
Under cross-examination by Victor Meyers, attorney for the Town of Copake, it was ascertained that Peter Cascino was not present when the receipts were filled out and in fact had no direct knowledge of who filled them out. Further, the receipts were not signed by anyone at Meadow Farm, but rather were signed by the truck drivers hired by the Cascinos to take the material to Meadow Farm. At the height of the removal operation, which went on from July 19 to August 5, up to six trucks were making three trips per day hauling debris the 44 miles to Meadow Farm, said Peter Cascino.
Jose Aguilera, the manager at Copake Valley Farm, testified that he was responsible for bulldozing down several acres of field corn growing on the Cascino property based on where the offending solid waste was supposed to be. He then said he calculated how large an area and how deep he had to dig down in order to pile up the proper amount of debris required to be removed. He said he then loaded the piled up material onto the tri-axel and dump trucks. Both Peter Cascino and Mr. Aguilera testified that they had been told where the offending material was by Copake town officials.
One of the truck drivers, Joseph Haight, who was part of the hauling operation, testified about his involvement and the number of trips he made to Meadow Farm with loads of material.
As his last witness, Mr. Lubow called Copake Town Supervisor Jeff Nayer to the stand. The supervisor agreed that he and Councilman Stanley Gansowski had gone to Copake Valley Farm and pointed out areas where they had seen the offending material dumped, then spread around and plowed under. But Mr. Nayer denied Mr. Lubow’s assertion that he had declined to mark the boundaries of the area with spray paint and further denied that he had ever told anyone that 7,605 cubic yards of material was the target amount to be removed to satisfy the town.
Mr. Nayer said he had never seen trucks removing material from Copake Valley Farm, but did see that piles had been excavated and that they eventually “diminished.”
At one point, Judge Nichols interjected, that “it is not about what the town did or did not do. It still has to be demonstrated that this material is the subject of my order.”
Mr. Lubow then began to disagree with the judge’s understanding of the law on civil contempt, suggesting that once the aggrieved party, which is the town, is “satisfied” then the “contempt has been cured.”
Contentious exchanges between Mr. Lubow and Judge Nichols continued after Mr. Lubow read parts of an uncertified transcript from a prior proceeding into the record despite the judge’s instruction not to. The judge then had the entire passage stricken from the record.
At the end of the day, Judge Nichols decided that no proof had been shown that the material removed from the Cascino property was in fact the material the judge had ordered removed and therefore he had not seen “sufficient evidence to demonstrate the purging of the contempt.”
He ordered Sal Cascino back to jail and set the matter for further review November 8 at 9 a.m.
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