A 2013 letter accusing a higher-up in an Islandia builders group of financial malfeasance sparked a vendetta to falsely blame a father and son for discarding contaminated dirt and debris at one of four sites at the heart of the pair’s ongoing dumping trial, a defense attorney said in court Tuesday.
Thomas Datre Sr., on trial with his son, Thomas Datre Jr., in a scheme to dump debris at sites in Islip Town and Deer Park in Babylon Town, penned the letter to past presidents of the Long Island Builders Institute alleging impropriety by operations director Lois Fricke, said Kevin Kearon, Datre Jr.’s attorney.
Kearon offered the two-page letter as evidence outside the presence of the jury. Tuesday marked the start of the third week of the trial in state Supreme Court in Central Islip that last week included a request by the defense for an inquiry into the Suffolk district attorney’s office and prosecutor Christopher McPartland, the lead investigator into public corruption in the dumping case.
McPartland is under federal investigation for his role in the corruption case of former Suffolk Police Chief James Burke.
In a letter to Judge Fernando Camacho Tuesday, Emily Constant, the district attorney’s chief assistant, said the prosecution “does not possess any exculpatory information relative to the defense,” in connection with the dumping case or McPartland’s role. Camacho read the letter in open court. The issue will be discussed again when the trial resumes Thursday, he said.
Kearon and Datre Sr.’s attorney, Andrew Campanelli, say their clients are victims of a “political hit” and selective prosecution.
Tuesday, Kearon said Datre Sr.’s letter accusing the popular Fricke ignited a feud pitting her against Datre Sr. and his wife Clara Datre, who has not been charged in the dumping scheme. The letter also spurred institute members to tell investigators the Datres dumped debris in 2013 at an Islandia subdivision under construction, Kearon said.
“There was a war, nuclear war, that takes place that year,” Kearon told Camacho, describing the Datres as nothing more than scapegoats in the case.
Kearon told Camacho he planned to question Fricke’s boss, Mitchell Pally, to “demonstrate through this witness and other witnesses that various witnesses in this case picked sides and almost all of them picked the side of Lois Fricke and virtually none of them picked the sides of the Datres.”
Assistant District Attorney Michelle Pitman objected, telling Camacho the letter “is full of hearsay allegations.” The judge agreed and said the charges leveled against Fricke in the letter would “distract the jury from its fact-finding role in this case.”
After the jury returned, Camacho allowed Kearon to cross examine prosecution witnesses on the nature of the dispute between the Datre family Fricke.
“It seems to me like a valid line of inquiry if there were in fact bad feelings between the Datres and some other people on the board of LIBI and the developmental organization,” Camacho said. “Clearly, that is a valid area of inquiry because . . . potentially it would give motivation for people to lie and to claim it was Tom Datre Sr. and Jr. that did this bad stuff.”
The father and son are charged with criminal mischief; endangering public health, safety or the environment; and operating a solid-waste management facility without a permit.
They are among six defendants indicted in December 2014 for allegedly taking part in the removal of contaminated debris from Brooklyn and Queens demolition sites and dumping it at Roberto Clemente Park in Brentwood; a private, 1-acre lot on Islip Avenue in Central Islip; a sensitive wetland in Deer Park in Babylon Town, and the Islandia subdivision for veterans from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Pally, the chief executive of the Long Island Builders Institute, and Michael Dubb, owner of The Beechwood Organization, of Jericho, a homebuilding company developing one of the Islandia homes, told Kearon during cross examination the Datres and Fricke were indeed locked in a heated battle after past presidents received copies of the letter.
Datre Sr.’s letter led to the hiring of an outside firm to audit the association’s books, Pally testified. The audit found that personal expenses, including services for a waxing boutique, were charged to an association credit card, Pally said, adding that only he and Fricke had access to it.
The audit concluded that Fricke should no longer be allowed to handle financial matters for the institute.
Kearon asked Pally whether Fricke was a “popular” institute member. The chief executive said she was and while she no longer handles financial matters, she is still the operations director.
The institute’s board terminated the Datres’ membership in the early summer of 2014 after Suffolk District Attorney Thomas Spota’s announcement of the dumping investigation.