Greed motivated Ronald Cianciulli to commit a “crime of opportunity” by helping a friend dump contaminated materials into a protected wetlands area in Deer Park, a prosecutor said Wednesday at the start of the businessman’s criminal trial.
Cianciulli, the owner of Atlas Asphalt in Deer Park, is accused of facilitating the dumping of construction and demolition debris at a neighboring business that included the wetlands. The property is owned by April Masie, who testified Wednesday, and her mother, Margaret Masie, both of Wantagh.
He faces six criminal counts including 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.
Prosecutors allege Cianciulli helped Thomas Datre Jr. dump thousands of tons of the material onto the Masie property, which contains several acres of state protected wetlands.
In her opening statement, Assistant District Attorney Michelle Pitman told state Supreme Court Justice Fernando Camacho that Cianciulli “acted in concert with Thomas Datre Jr.” from March to April 2014 and “intentionally damaged” the property while “recklessly engaging in conduct that caused the release of acute hazardous substances.”
“This defendant knows exactly what acceptable material is and what is not,” Pitman said, describing Cianciulli and Datre Jr. as friends. “He understands the business and he knows the visual cues to look for while assessing the proper place of disposal . . . disregarding the risks, he took the material anyway.”
Last week, Cianciulli waived his right to a jury trial leaving his fate up to Camacho.
Earlier this month, plea negotiations between Carman and prosecutors broke down, Camacho said, because Cianciulli would not agree to a criminal disposition. Pitman said in court Wednesday that several attempts to reach a plea deal failed including a prosecution offer to dismiss the felonies against Cianciulli if he would accept a misdemeanor conviction.
Pitman told the judge that Cianciulli’s alleged actions were “not a case of someone helping a friend. The evidence will show he derived an economic benefit.”
Cianciulli’s defense attorney, John Carman, insisted in his opening remarks that his client did nothing wrong.
“Every last yard” dumped at the property was “done exclusively by a company known as Datre” and Cianciulli “never helped anybody do any of these things,” Carman said.
Carman, of Garden City, blamed the Masies’ property manager, Sharon Argenzio, who he says was “asleep at the switch” during the dumping. It was her job, Carman said, to turn away the 50 to 80 lime-green Datre trucks coming through the gates.
“The district attorney’s case against Ron Cianciulli is based upon what I view to be a twisting or misplaced notion of vicarious liability,” Carman said. “The Masies don’t deserve to be in the position that they’re in, nor do the Masies’ neighbors, nor do the residents of the Town of Babylon, but those injustices cannot be reversed by convicting an innocent man.”
The Suffolk County district attorney’s offices indicted Cianciulli and five others on Dec. 8, 2014. Also indicted were 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.
Prosecutors said the six played a role in helping to dump truckloads of materials brought from demolition sites in New York City to the Deer Park site; Roberto Clemente Park in Brentwood; a private 1-acre lot on Islip Avenue in Central Islip; and a six-home development built for returning Iraq and Afghanistan War veterans in the Village of Islandia.
Datre Jr. and his father were the first tried off the indictment, also before Camacho. Nearly six weeks after prosecutors began their case Feb. 23, they dropped Datre Sr.’s charges March 31 after his son pleaded guilty to four felonies. Grabe, although not on trial at the time, pleaded guilty the same day to two felonies related to dumping.
April Masie and Argenzio, who both testified at the Datres’ trial, took the stand Wednesday. Masie said Cianciulli retained a barter agreement made with her father, Joe Masie, after his death in 2011. The agreement let Cianciulli park his equipment in their lot in exchange for snow removal and pothole repair, but did not include permission to dump, she testified.
About a dozen witnesses are expected to be called by prosecutors during the trial, which is expected to last about a week.