A former state trooper and more than two dozen other men suspected in an organized crime extortion racket are headed to trial after pleading not guilty Wednesday in federal court, a spokeswoman for U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara said.
The defendants were indicted on racketeering charges -- including extortion and loan sharking -- through their control of unnamed private trash-hauling companies that did business in New York City, Long Island, New Jersey, and Westchester and Rockland counties.
Ten of the 29 men accused of being members or associates of three mob crime families are from the Hudson Valley. In all, 32 people were charged in three related federal indictments. Among the suspects rounded up by the FBI and Westchester County police on Jan. 16: former State Police trooper Mario Velez, 44, of Peekskill, charged with conspiracy to commit extortion. He faces up to 20 years in prison if convicted.
Velez and the accused mobsters remain in federal custody without the possibility of bail, U.S. attorney's spokeswoman Ellen Davis said. With their pleas of not guilty, they'll head to trial much later in the year, with U.S. District Judge Kevin Castel setting a Sept. 23 trial date.
Also charged were a father and son from Cortlandt Manor, Pasquale Cartalemi, 50, and Pasquale L. Cartalemi, 27. Both are accused of extortion, a crime punishable by up to 20 years in prison.
"Organized crime still wraps its tentacles around industries it has fed off for decades, but law enforcement continues to pry loose its grip," Bharara said.
One of the companies allegedly involved in the scheme to control the trash-hauling industry in the metropolitan region is AAA Carting of Peekskill -- which was owned by the Cartalemis -- with Velez having a hand in the running of the business, authorities said.
The company is now facing questions from the Westchester County Solid Waste Commission.
On Jan. 23, commission members decided they would hire an auditor to investigate the trash-hauling company in light of its owners' indictments, said Bruce Berger, the commission's executive director. They are now reviewing potential companies to perform the auditing and expect to formally appoint someone at their Feb. 21 meeting.
Under the law, the commission could have revoked the license or done nothing, Berger said. But commission members, he said, felt AAA Carting needed oversight given the allegations against the Cartalemis. He stressed that appointing an auditor didn't mean the commission was agreeing with or denying the allegations.
To operate in Westchester County, trash haulers must obtain a license from the commission. But local governments sometimes also have special requirements haulers must meet to work within their municipal boundaries.
The auditor has the power to investigate a company's revenues and expenses, equipment, personnel, the amount of trash they haul and other aspects of their business. The auditors' probe could become evidence in court, Berger said.
"Our mandate is to share information with law enforcement," he said.
If the Cartalemis are convicted, the commission would likely revoke their license to operate, he added.