Illegal dumping scheme put debris in parks, backyards, officials say
Illegally dumped dirt mounds adjacent to Brentwood State Park discussed at a news conference about Operation Pay Dirt, the undercover investigation on Long Island and in New York City that the state’s top environmental official described as the “largest-ever bust of illegal dumping in the state’s history.”
Timothy Sini, Suffolk District Attorney, speaks during a press event at Brentwood State Park in Brentwood, N.Y. on July 17, 2018. Following up on Operation Pay Dirt, the undercover operation on Long Island and in New York City that the state’s top environmental official described as the “largest-ever bust of illegal dumping in the state’s history.”
An undercover operation that netted dozens of arrests on illegal dumping charges Tuesday centered on a dirt broker who offered residents clean fill and instead arranged for debris and solid waste to be placed on their properties, Suffolk County District Attorney Timothy Sini said.
Anthony C. Grazio, also known as Rock, was one of 24 people arrested in the monthslong Operation Pay Dirt — the largest bust for illegal dumping of construction and demolition debris in the state’s history, officials said.
The investigation also resulted in charges against 12 companies in connection with the dumping. Investigators seized 27 trucks and froze $4.4 million in accounts, Sini announced at a Wednesday news conference in Brentwood State Park near the site of some of the alleged dumping.
The investigation “uncovered an underground world of dirt brokers, solid waste facilities and trucking companies” working together to dump illegally, Sini said.
The work, part of a larger crackdown on illegal dumping launched by Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo called Operation TrashNet, also uncovered 21 new dumping sites, officials said. It was conducted by the district attorney’s office, New York State Department of Environmental Conservation and Suffolk County police detectives.
Pay Dirt focused on 25 illegal dump sites, including backyards, public land, parks and properties next to bodies of water, Sini said. Investigators executed 20 search warrants, officials said.
Joseph Cozzo, an attorney for Grazio, 53, of Smithtown, and another defendant, Vito Fragola, 44, of Commack, said his clients deny the charges against them, including that Grazio is a dirt broker. He said third parties that Grazio and Fragola received fill from told them the materials were “up to code.”
“They live here on the Island,” Cozzo, whose office is in Central Islip, said of his clients. “The last thing they’re looking to do is live somewhere and contaminate the place.”
Investigators found Grazio brokered deals with recycling and solid waste management facilities and trucking companies to illegally dump construction and demolition debris into Suffolk parks and backyards, Sini said. Grazio also sold or offered clean fill to residents through online advertisements and door-to-door solicitation, and showed them “bogus lab reports” about the fill’s contents, Sini said. Some homeowners paid the contractors to spread the fill in their yards, he added.
Grazio was charged with 50 felony counts, including criminal mischief, and 74 misdemeanors, according to court records. His bail was set at $167,000 bond or $77,000 cash, his attorney said.
A special grand jury was convened Wednesday to investigate the cases, look into remediation steps, and report back on how to reduce illegal dumping, Sini said. Investigators also plan to seize and forfeit assets used in the scheme, Sini said.
“The only dumping that will occur in Suffolk County is dumping of the full weight of the criminal justice system on those who are responsible for dumping in Suffolk county,” he said.
The companies charged saved hundreds of thousands of dollars by dumping illegally, state Department of Environmental Conservation Commissioner Basil Seggos said at the news conference.
Legal disposal costs about $1,500 per truckload of material on Long Island, and the cost can double or triple depending on the contents, a DEC official said. Solid waste management facilities involved in the investigation paid trucking companies $700 per load to haul the material away illegally, the official said.