Dumping case cracked through undercover stakeouts, surveillance, Sini says

Dumping case cracked through undercover stakeouts, surveillance, Sini says

Fill dirt place in the front yard of a Central Islip home. The homeowner said he was unaware the soil was contaminated. The property is part of an illegal dumping case being investigated by the Suffolk County District Attorney’s office.

 

Stakeouts. Surveillance. Hours sitting in vehicles — even hiding in a car’s trunk — to monitor suspects and allegedly illegal transactions.

That’s how Suffolk County investigators cracked the case of dirt brokers and trucks involved in what officials called the “largest-ever bust of illegal dumping” in the state. After the monthslong joint investigation by the district attorney’s office and the state Department of Environmental Conservation, a dozen companies were charged, $4.4 million in assets were frozen and 27 vehicles were seized last week.

Suffolk County District Attorney Timothy Sini, in an interview, detailed how investigators used traditional undercover investigation tactics from gang or narcotic trafficking cases to break the dumping sch

The investigation required a “tremendous amount of work,” Sini said. “The message that will ultimately be sent is it is simply not worth dumping in Suffolk County.”

A special grand jury has been convened to address cleanup options and study ways to prevent illegal dumping, Sini said. He added that his office will use restitution, and asset seizure and forfeiture, to help pay for remediation, noting that some of the seized trucks cost more than $250,000.

Investigators staked out construction sites and trucking companies, spending hours in their cars — and in at least one instance, in the vehicle’s trunk, Sini said. They tailed trucks on major roads without being spotted and took photographs. They lived off fast food, lost sleep and suffered neck and back pain.

Investigators discovered that properties in at least a dozen Suffolk communities were contaminated with debris that homeowners thought was clean fill that, in some instances, contained hazardous waste, officials said.

eme that left contaminated construction and demolition debris in yards around the county and at other sites.

Trucking companies took contaminated fill to residences in Bay Shore, Blue Point, Central Islip, Patchogue, Port Jefferson Station, Ridge, Setauket and Smithtown, the district attorney’s office said. Other properties, including commercial sites, were in Bellport, Brentwood, Medford and Commack, Sini said.

The fill’s contents included hazardous substances, such as pesticides and petroleum-based products, as well as nontoxic materials such as glass and rebar, officials said.

John Kerrigan, who owns a house on Wilson Boulevard in Central Islip, said his property became an illegal dumping site in February after he was offered free fill that he was told was clean. The half-acre property he has owned for 41 years is now enclosed with orange construction fencing covered in “restricted area” signs. His property is dotted with uneven piles of fill, including one at least 6 feet tall.

“I just want it to get straightened out and move on,” said Kerrigan, a 68-year-old retired Kennedy Airport worker. “It is a problem. It is a pain.”

The time frame for cleanup will depend on the contents at each site, and ones that threaten drinking water will be given first priority, officials said.

Some of the sites contained pesticides, including aldrin and dieldrin, said Christiana McSloy, chief of the district attorney’s enhanced prosecution bureau. Those pesticides were banned by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency in 1987 and can affect the liver, immune system, nervous system and developing organs, according to the  federal Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry.

“The clear and present danger is folks playing in solid waste and hazardous materials” in backyards and near a Brentwood field that is next to both a middle school and state park, Sini said.

Illegal dumping in residential areas can be especially problematic for young children because they sometimes eat dirt — whether intentionally or because they crawl around and frequently put their hands in their mouths, said Stony Brook University professor David Tonjes, who researches solid waste management and its impacts.

Fines for illegal dumping can range from $1,500 to $75,000 per load per day and as much as $1 million and jail time in the worst cases, DEC officials said.

The investigation centered on dirt broker Anthony C. Grazio, known as Rock, 53, of Smithtown, who Sini said offered free clean fill to residents and instead arranged for debris and solid waste to be placed on the properties.

Joseph Cozzo, an attorney for defendant Vito Fragola, 44, of Commack, said his client denies the charges. He questioned the investigation.

“If this is a sting operation, and the fill is so contaminated, and there’s surveillance going on for weeks, why would [investigators] allow them to dump this waste instead of stopping them and preventing it from touching the soil?” Cozzo said.

Sini said investigators often had to wait for lab reports to confirm the fill was illegally dumped. Suspects were ticketed, summonsed, arrested and pulled over during the investigation, he said, adding “we’ve made their lives a living hell for the past several months.”

Denise Richardson, executive director of the General Contractors Association of New York, said dirt brokers are in high demand because there is a “robust market” for clean fill. New regulations and limited capacity at waste management facilities have complicated the process for legal disposal and could make illegal dumping a “growing problem” on Long Island, she said.

The investigation will “make others think twice about” illegally dumping, Richardson said.

“I’m glad the DA has been very aggressive on this issue,” she said. “This is not how the industry operates.”

Original article and journalistic credit can be found here.

Illegal dumping investigation leads to three more arrests

Illegal dumping investigation leads to three more arrests

Illegal dumping investigation leads to three more arrests, Sini says.

Suffolk District Attorney Timothy Sini talks about new
Three more people were arrested in one of the largest busts of alleged illegal dumping in the state’s history, Suffolk County District Attorney Timothy Sini said Thursday.

With the new arrests made Wednesday, Operation Pay Dirt has led to charges against 27 people who investigators say were involved in illegally dumping construction and demolition debris – including at Suffolk County properties where homeowners thought they were getting clean fill, Sini said.

Three drivers for trucking companies were arrested, according to the district attorney’s office: Santos Delgado, 39, of Bay Shore; Greg Hatch, 54, of Port Jefferson Station; and Richard Valentino, 55, Ronkonkoma.

All three were charged with a misdemeanor count of criminal facilitation in the fourth degree. Hatch and Valentino were also charged with a misdemeanor count of attempted unlawful disposal of solid waste.

The district attorney’s office last week also charged a dozen companies in the monthslong investigation, seized 27 vehicles and froze $4.4 million in assets, Sini said.

The arrests are “a clear message to the industry that we’re not going to tolerate this,” Sini said.

Investigators tracked debris from construction sites and solid waste facilities to Suffolk properties, employing physical surveillance and other tactics traditionally used in gang and narcotics trafficking busts, Sini said.

Setauket homeowner Roderick Borrie said the investigation “spared” him from having illegal fill dirt dumped at his house.

A man who had offered free, clean fill on Craigslist was thwarted by state Department of Environmental Conservation police after he went to Borrie’s home to fill in areas of the yard where bamboo had been removed, Borrie said.

“They were on him like glue as soon as he pulled onto my property,” Borrie said of the suspect. “They had quite a bit of manpower tracking this guy.”.

The DEC is making sure “these bad actors are brought to justice,” agency commissioner Basil Seggos said.

Of 25 sites investigated, some contained hazardous substances, including petroleum-based products and banned pesticides, investigators said.

Joseph Cozzo, an attorney for Delgado and his boss, Vito Fragola, 44, of Commack, said “we’re going to fight these charges vigorously.” He had questioned the operation’s tactics, asking why investigators would allow suspects “to dump this waste instead of stopping them and preventing it from touching the soil.” Fragola was among those arrested in the case last week.

Sini said investigators did “an incredible job of preventing dumping” where they could, adding that in some instances, there was no immediate evidence that fill was contaminated.

During the investigation, eight people were arrested in connection with alleged illegal dumping at a Central Islip home and commercial properties in Center Moriches and Medford, Sini said. Investigators stopped 22 vehicles and tested 137 samples of material before the bulk of the arrests on July 17, Sini said.

Several suspects committed more illegal dumping crimes after those initial arrests, he said.

A special grand jury has been convened to investigate the alleged illegal dumping and look into developing regulations to prevent the practice, he said.

Original article and journalistic credit can be found here.