A businessman on trial for his role in the dumping of tons of contaminated materials in a Deer Park wetland said he “was trying to hook my friend up with a place to screen topsoil,” according to a secretly taped phone call played in court Thursday.
Ronald Cianciulli made the statement in a call placed by Sharon Argenzio, the Brook Avenue site’s property manager who has overseen day-to-day operations since 2011.
Argenzio told prosecutor Robert Kerr during questioning Thursday that she called Cianciulli on July 1, 2014, at the request of Suffolk detectives working with a district attorney’s office investigation started that April into dumping in Islip.
Prosecutors Wednesday told state Supreme Court Justice Fernando Camacho in opening statements that Cianciulli committed a “crime of opportunity” that netted the defendant an economic benefit while “acting in concert” with Thomas Datre Jr.
Datre Jr. pleaded guilty earlier this year to charges connected to the dumping of hazardous materials on the property and adjacent state-protected wetlands between March and April 2014.
Cianciulli is on trial in Central Islip for second-degree criminal mischief, two counts of third-degree endangering public health, safety or the environment, fourth-degree endangering public health, safety or the environment, operating a solid-waste management facility without a permit, and engaging in regulated activities within mapped freshwater wetlands without a permit.
An indictment unsealed on Dec. 8, 2014, named Cianciulli, Datre Jr., his father Thomas Datre Sr., Christopher Grabe of Islandia Recycling, former Islip Town Parks Commissioner Joseph J. Montuori Jr. and his former secretary Brett A. Robinson.
The Suffolk district attorney’s office said the six took part in the dumping of contaminated construction material trucked in from sites in Queens and Brooklyn. In addition to the Deer Park site, investigators found debris laced with toxins at Roberto Clemente Park in Brentwood; a six-home Islandia subdivision for Iraq and Afghanistan war veterans; and a private 1-acre lot on Islip Avenue in Central Islip.
Argenzio told Kerr that in March 2014, Cianciulli approached her to rent six parking spaces and offered to pay $1,500 for one month, with tenancy beginning April 1.
The property manager testified she saw materials piling up at the property on about March 28 or 29, 2014. Argenzio told Kerr she saw green Datre tractor-trailers hauling in dirt mixed with concrete. Argenzio said she had never heard of Datre Jr. until he tried to give her a check in mid-April 2014 for the rent, which she said she refused because “there was dirt everywhere.”
On the recorded call, Cianciulli refuted Argenzio’s assertion that she was renting out to him.
“Sharon, you didn’t rent it out to me, you rented it out to the other guy,” Cianciulli tells her. “Don’t you remember?”
Cianciulli presented a check for $1,500 with “Datre rent” written in the memo, Argenzio testified, which she accepted, made a copy of and wrote “April paid in full.”
Argenzio tells Cianciulli in the phone conversation: “I’m in trouble here.”
Cianciulli in turn, attempts to ease her concerns.
“I don’t think that you are in trouble because you didn’t do anything wrong,” he says. “And I didn’t do anything wrong either.”
Argenzio tells Cianciulli she read in Newsday that pesticides “they don’t even use here in America” were found in the soil dumped there.
“How could he possibly know that?” he says of Datre Jr. “I don’t know that. He don’t know that. You don’t know that. It’s dirt.”
Cianciulli’s defense attorney, John Carman, questioned Argenzio extensively Thursday about her recollection of when she saw debris carted to the property, whom she alerted, and how she authorized renting the six spaces where the trucks dumped the materials.
Wednesday, Carman blamed Argenzio for allowing the dumping and described her as “asleep at the switch.”
He defended Cianciulli’s responses on the call Thursday, reading back portions where his client said he didn’t think anyone should move the materials until authorities gave the OK.
“He doesn’t say, ‘We were trying to get rid of some bad stuff, we needed a place to put it temporarily,’ does he?” Carman asked Argenzio. She replied: “No.”
“He doesn’t propose to you some plan to get rid of the incriminating fill, does he,” Carman asked. Argenzio again replied, “No.”
“Are those the words of a law abiding man in your mind?” Carman asked.