A Brightwaters businessman set to go on trial next week waived his right to a jury trial Wednesday on felony charges connected to a scheme to dump tons of hazardous construction and demolition debris at a protected Deer Park wetlands area.
Ronald Cianciulli, the owner of Atlas Asphalt, signed the form in front of state Supreme Court Justice Fernando Camacho in a Central Islip courtroom. Camacho will preside over Cianciulli’s bench trial, expected to start Wednesday.
Cianciulli was one of six men indicted Dec. 8, 2014 in what prosecutors have described as a scheme fueled by greed where truckloads of construction and demolition materials were brought from sites in New York City and deposited at the wetlands area off Brook Avenue; Roberto Clemente Park in Brentwood, the largest Islip Town-owned public park in the hamlet; a six-home development in Islandia built for returning veterans from the Iraq and Afghanistan wars; and a private one-acre plot on Islip Avenue in Central Islip.
Cianciulli is charged with 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.
His attorney, John Carman, who has stressed his client’s innocence and called the case “baseless,” would not say Wednesday why Ciaciulli elected to forgo a jury trial.
“The decision to waive the jury is a multi-factor decision and it’s a deeply personal and private decisionmaking process,” Carman said outside court.
In a bench trial, the judge not only has the final say on law and trial procedure but also determines what evidence is credible, and decides whether a defendant is innocent or guilty. Bench trials are usually resolved quicker than jury trials because it eliminates the often time-consuming jury selection and instruction.
Plea negotiations between prosecutors and Carman failed last week when Cianciulli would not accept a deal that included a criminal disposition, Camacho said at the time. Assistant District Attorney Mark Murray would not comment Wednesday on Cianciulli’s decision. He previously estimated the length of trial to be about two weeks, but said Tuesday it would be closer to one week. He expects his team of prosecutors to call 12 to 14 witnesses to the stand, which include some who had also testified in a previous trial against Thomas Datre Jr. and his father, Thomas Datre Sr.
The trial of the Datres — the first off the 2014 indictment — ended March 31 as prosecutors were in their sixth week of presenting their case. Datre Jr. pleaded guilty to four counts of endangering the public health, safety or the environment, a class E felony, in connection dumping at the four sites. Christopher Grabe, of Islandia Recycling, also indicted but not on trial at the time, pleaded guilty to two felonies for his role in dumping at Clemente Park and the Central Islip site. Charges against Datre Sr., accused of allowing his son to dump at the Islandia development where he was managing construction, were dropped because of his son’s guilty plea, prosecutors said at the time.
On April 29, the Town of Islip filed a $4 million federal racketeering lawsuit naming dozens of people and companies, including Cianciulli. The suit alleges they conspired to dump about 40,000 tons of contaminated debris on the soccer field and recharge basin at Clemente Park. Cianciulli has not been charged criminally for the dumping at the park.
Cases against two others named in the indictment, former Islip Town parks commissioner Joseph J. Montuori Jr. and his former secretary, Brett A. Robinson, are still pending and will proceed after a resolution in Cianciulli’s case.