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Fate of dumping defendant Ronald Cianciulli in judge’s hands

Ronald Cianciulli arrives at First District Court in

Ronald Cianciulli arrives at First District Court in Central Islip Thursday, June 2, 2016. His attorney and prosecutors gave their closing statements to State Supreme Court Justice Fernando Camacho. Credit: James Carbone

In his closing arguments Thursday, the defense lawyer for a Brightwaters businessman on trial for his alleged role in a dumping scheme said the prosecution’s case is “fundamentally flawed” and his client had nothing to do with the operation. But a prosecutor on the case countered in her summation that Ronald Cianciulli “put profit over public safety” when he helped find a Deer Park property to dump contaminated materials.

Both sides made their final arguments Thursday in a Central Islip courtroom to State Supreme Court Justice Fernando Camacho. Cianciulli waived his right to have a jury decide his fate so Camacho alone will determine it.

The judge ordered all parties back to court at 10 a.m. Friday.

Cianciulli’s Garden City defense attorney, John Carman, also tried to discredit last week’s testimony of the property manager at the time of the Deer Park dumping. He told Camacho that Sharon Argenzio’s recollections on the witness stand were “absolutely fictional.”

Argenzio, the manager of the commercial parking facility at the site since 2011, testified last week that she saw four Datre trucks enter the property to dump material from March to April 2014.

At one point, Argenzio told prosecutors, she climbed onto one of the trucks and ordered the driver to leave.

But Carman told Camacho Thursday it strained credulity to believe Argenzio was unaware of the intentions when 82 Datre trucks rolled onto the property on her watch and dumped the material before driving away.

Carman described Argenzio’s testimony as “absurdity on its face” and told Camacho there were flaws and discrepancies in Argenzio’s answers during direct and cross examination.

“This wiggling, this waffling, isn’t good enough and she knows it,” Carman said of Argenzio’s testimony. “She needs to point a finger of blame. ‘Ah ha! Ron tricked me.”

When her time came to make her summation, Assistant District Attorney Michelle Pitman offered up a dozen witnesses and 72 exhibits during the six-day-long bench trial as proof that Cianciulli, the owner of the nearby Atlas Asphalt, played an integral role in the effort by Thomas Datre Jr. to dump the materials in a property parking lot and an adjacent state-protected wetlands.

“If not for this defendant,” Pitman told Camacho, in reference to Cianciulli, “none of the crimes would have or could have occurred at that property.”

Cianciulli faces three felonies, for second-degree criminal mischief and two counts of third-degree endangering the public health, safety or the environment, as well as a misdemeanor operating a solid-waste management facility without a permit and a violation of engaging in regulated activities within mapped freshwater wetlands without a permit.

Pitman said Thursday that Cianciulli “acted in concert” with Datre Jr. After six weeks of prosecutors presenting their case against Datre Jr., he pleaded guilty March 30 to four felonies connected to the dumping of contaminated materials at the Deer Park location, including the wetlands, and three Islip sites.

The prosecutor read out a numbered list of examples she said proves Cianciulli’s guilt, including “his admissions” in a secretly recorded phone call placed by Argenzio in July 2014.

In the phone call, made at the request of Suffolk detectives working with the Suffolk County District Attorney’s Office and played in court last week, and during Pitman’s closing argument Thursday, Cianciulli acted “neither shocked nor surprised nor apologetic” that the dumped materials contained toxins, the prosecutor said.

Argenzio, as well as April Masie, who owns the Deer Park property with her mother Margaret, both testified last week that an agreement struck between Cianciulli and April Masie’s late father permitted Cianciulli to store equipment on their property in exchange for pothole repair and snow plowing. The deal did not include dumping, they testified.

The material dumped at the Masie property contained pesticides, asbestos, metals and semivolatile organic compounds, prosecutors said.

On Tuesday, an official with the state Department of Environment Conservation testified that about 2,200 cubic yards of the material was found in the wetlands area as well as another 1,100 cubic yards in the parking lot. The official said it would cost more than $10,000 to properly revegetate the sensitive wetland while environmental consultants testified it would cost anywhere from $40 to $90 per ton to dispose of the debris.

The cleanup has yet to happen. Datre Jr., as part of his plea deal, had his prison sentence deferred by Camacho, who ordered him to help clean it up as the Masies do not have the funds to complete the job.

CORRECTION: The date Thomas Datre pleaded guilty was incorrect in an earlier version of this story.

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