A Coram man accused of illegal dumping told a Brentwood church member in a phone call that the work he did at Roberto Clemente Park was “all legal.”
In the recording played Friday during the trial of Thomas Datre Jr. and Thomas Datre Sr., Christopher Grabe of Islandia Recycling said he had a grading and land-clearing permit from the Town of Islip that allowed him to do the work.
Nancy Alvarez, the secretary at Iglesia de Jesucristo Palabra Miel church in Brentwood — whose members began a volunteer effort in spring 2013 to rehab the soccer fields at the park, placed the call while at District Attorney Thomas Spota’s offices in Hauppauge on April 25, 2014.
Spota, along with the state Department of Environmental Conservation, had begun an investigation into dumping in Islip in the weeks prior to the call, prosecutors have said.
At the beginning of the nearly 10-minute recording played during the fourth day of the Datre trial being held at State Supreme Court in Central Islip, Alvarez said Spota was “going after” her and she began asking Grabe about the dumping. Grabe — who will be tried this year — asked to meet with her, but she refused.
“The only person I talked to was the DEC,” Grabe said. “I gave them paperwork on the material that was trucked in from Datre. They wanted to make sure it was clean, not contaminated. I gave them the paperwork from the laboratory that showed it was clean and that’s it.”
Grabe said he didn’t know why Spota’s office was “bothering” her.
“What they’re trying to do is just build a case, OK? They have to do their sampling on the soil, OK? They have to test it,” Grabe said. “If it comes up clean, they don’t got nothing. If it comes up contaminated, they have to make Datre or the Town of Islip clean it up because the Town of Islip is the one that gave a permit and permission for all this to go on there with the topsoil and everything.”
Alvarez said she was upset because the church was “trying to do something good for the community.”
“Absolutely. I was doing the right thing for the community too,” Grabe said.
Alvarez was the third member of the church to testify for prosecutors in the case against Thomas Datre Sr. and his son Thomas Datre Jr.
The Datres — who are charged with criminal mischief; endangering public health, safety or the environment; and operating a solid waste management facility without a permit — were indicted in December 2014 along with Grabe and three other men on multiple criminal charges related to the dumping of contaminated debris at the park, a one-acre lot in Central Islip, a six-home subdivision for returning Iraq and Afghanistan war veterans and their families in Islandia, and a sensitive wetlands area in Deer Park.
Alvarez said she agreed to help prosecutors in their case by placing the call to Grabe. She broke into tears several times while on the witness stand — at one point blaming the Town of Islip for what happened.
“It hurts to see that,” Alvarez said of the condition of the park after the dumping. “We were doing something to volunteer to help the community, something good. You think you can trust people who work for the town.”
Joseph J. Montuori Jr., a former Islip Town parks commisisoner, and his former secretary, Brett A. Robinson, are both under indictment for their alleged roles in what happened at the park. Alvarez said she called Robinson to let him know about the dumping but it didn’t stop. Then Robinson called her to meet with him and Montuori in October 2013 to discuss the soccer field project.
“They wanted to see how we could continue, but we already had stopped before,” Alvarez said. She said the church could not continue the work because of the amount of fill on the fields, and because there was no water supply to help grass grow.
“It shocked me that they called me because we weren’t on the fields no more,” Alvarez said. “We couldn’t go back because all that junk was there.”
Earlier Friday, George Hafele, a former Islip Town deputy parks commissioner, showed jurors photos he took at the park in fall 2013, pointing out blocks of concrete and rebar and glass — what he called “substandard material.”
He also testified that he warned then-Town Councilman Anthony Senft, a Conservative Party member, about what was going on at the park during a 2013 Town Board meeting.
Kevin Kearon of Garden City, the attorney for Thomas Datre Jr., asked Hafele, a Democrat, about his past two unsuccessful campaigns, including one for Islip Town Board in fall 2013. Hafele testified he was let go from his position in the town parks department in 2013.
In nearly two hours of cross-examination by Kearon, Hafele laid out the political landscape of the Town of Islip and Suffolk County. At one point, acting Supreme Court Justice Fernando Camacho stopped the cross-examination and asked the jury and Hafele to step out.
“I want to make sure that this isn’t a fishing expedition,” Camacho said. “I want to make sure there’s some point, some goal you’re working toward.”
“We regard him as a political player, a political figure, whose interest it was to destroy the Republican Party, the incumbent Republican Party’s reputation,” Kearon said.