Michael Torres, Islip Conservative leader, was consulted on Brentwood park dumping, say sources
Islip officials consulted with local Conservative Party leader Michael Torres about suspected illegal dumping at Roberto Clemente Park in Brentwood before a politically connected firm carted 45 truckloads of debris out of the park in January, sources with knowledge of the conversations said.
Torres' input was sought by key Islip parks officials at least twice that month, once in a phone call by a town parks department employee and again in a meeting at a local restaurant, to discuss what was happening at the park, according to the sources.
It is unclear why Torres, a senior assistant commissioner at the Suffolk County Board of Elections who was on Islip Supervisor Tom Croci's transition team, would need to be consulted on the dumping.
The partial cleanup was ordered after complaints about debris in the park from local residents and lawmakers. The dumping is the subject of a criminal investigation by the Suffolk County district attorney's office.
Part of the district attorney's investigation, led by the public corruption unit, concerns why a party leader would be involved in discussions about debris removal from a municipal park, sources said.
A hauling company operated by Tom Datre Jr. -- son of prominent Islip political fundraisers Tom and Clara Datre -- removed the material from one area of the park on Jan. 24-26, Datre Jr.'s attorney Kevin Kearon said.
The dumping continued after the partial cleanup, officials have said, with 48 Datre truckloads captured on town video surveillance dumping in the park in March.
The Town of Islip has formally blamed Daytree at Cortland Square, a company headed by Clara Datre, for the dumping. In four letters sent to its insurance firms, the town described the company as a "responsible party."
The couple's attorney, Andrew Campanelli, has said his clients are "in no way, shape or form a responsible party" for dumping materials "at any facility."
On Jan. 21, two days before Islip ordered the cleanup, Suffolk County Legis. Monica Martinez's (D-Brentwood) call to the town parks department prompted parks commissioner Joseph J. Montuori Jr. to send employees to check her claims of the park's recharge basin being littered with debris, including bricks and rebar, one of the sources said.
After they reported back, Montuori ordered the debris removed, the source said.
"He took it upon himself to order that stuff out of there," the source said. "He knew something was wrong there, before the town told him to do anything."
That same day, the sources said, a "panicked" discussion then ensued between Montuori and one of his top lieutenants, Brett A. Robinson.
When Montuori told Robinson to get the cleanup organized, Robinson's response was that he would have to "call Mike," which the sources said was a reference to Torres.
Sometime around Jan. 21, a meeting was arranged among Torres, Montuori and Datre Jr. at a local Italian restaurant to discuss what was going on at the park, two additional sources with knowledge of this meeting said. No other details about what was said at that meeting are known.
Torres and attorneys for Montuori, Robinson and Datre Jr., did not return calls for comment.
Struggles between elected town officials and party leaders can be a fairly typical source of tension in local government, said Michael LoGrande, a former Islip supervisor and later Suffolk County executive.
Local government leadership requires "constant vigilance" or else control can be easily usurped by party leaders, he said.
"A lot of time you can't know all the moves going on around you. . . . It can turn into a minefield pretty quickly," said LoGrande, also a former head of the Suffolk County Water Authority.
The dumping in the park began as early as June last year after a local church asked to have the soccer fields repaired, officials have said. Work began on the fields before the parks department was issued a three-month land clearing and grading permit from the town planning department in late summer, which expired in December.
In early May, investigators raided "Datre/Daytree" corporate offices in Ronkonkoma in connection with the dumping of an estimated 50,000 tons of contaminant-laced debris at the park, other sources have said.
Clara Datre said her son does not hold a principal position and is not formally involved with her company -- Daytree at Cortland Square -- but is a "mechanical genius" who helps out if a truck breaks down.
Kearon said his client operates his own companies, DFF Farm Corp., which had a permit to dump "permissible" fill into the park last summer, as well as 5 Brothers Farming Corp. Some heavy equipment from Datre Jr.'s companies had been used for Daytree at Cortland Square's work within the town, Clara Datre has said.
Campanelli said two trucks titled to Daytree at Cortland Square were seen going to Roberto Clemente Park, but that they were driven by his clients' son or grandson.
Tom Datre Sr. held a position on the town's Plumbers' Examining Board where he was a board member in 1981 and became chairman in 2012. He was removed by the town board amid the dumping probe in May. In 2007, Clara Datre ran unsuccessfully as a GOP candidate for town supervisor. The couple has raised and donated hundreds of thousands of dollars for the Islip Town political parties since 2000, and raised and donated at least $160,000 to the Islip GOP from 2011 to 2013.
Test results have revealed that the fill dumped at the park and at three additional sites in Islip and Babylon contains an array of pesticides and heavy metals. Suffolk District Attorney Thomas Spota has said investigators have connected the materials at all four "to the same individual and entities."
Both lose posts
On May 6, the same day that Spota announced asbestos was present in Roberto Clemente Park, Montuori was forced to resign. Robinson was fired three days later.
Montuori and Robinson, both members of the Conservative Party, came to Islip Town government in 2012 when leadership in the parks department changed after Republican Croci's November 2011 election.
Torres, along with town GOP chairman Frank Tantone, were on Croci's transition team as his new administration took shape.
Torres, whose brother was hired as a town heavy equipment operator in the public works department two months after Croci was elected, was appointed by the town Jan. 2, 2013, as a member of the town board of assessment review. That position pays a stipend of $7,572.
Montuori was unanimously appointed parks commissioner by the Islip town board on Jan. 31, 2012, during Croci's first month in office. Montuori is a retired superintendent of Heckscher State Park and former Suffolk County parks commissioner. In mid-February, Montuori appointed Robinson his secretary.
Robinson got his start in politics in the Babylon GOP and in 2008 took a position as a county assistant elections clerk. Torres and Robinson worked together at the Board of Elections before Robinson left to work with Montuori.
After Robinson was fired, he turned out the next weekend to knock on doors for Islip Town Board member Anthony Senft's state Senate bid, sources said. Last month, Senft bailed out of his bid after months of scrutiny over the dumping.
Senft, the town board's sole Conservative board member, was the board's liaison to the parks department during the time of the dumping. In interviews, Senft has said he was in daily contact with Montuori, but knew nothing of the dumping or Datre involvement.
The park has been closed since April 23. The town cannot begin to remediate the park until a plan, which is expected to be filed later this month, is approved by the state Department of Environmental Conservation.
Croci did not respond to requests for comment.