A truck driver testified Tuesday he thought he was hauling clean fill for one of two men charged in a Central Islip dumping trial when he discarded nearly 80 loads from New York City in a Brentwood park and wetlands in Babylon Town that authorities later said contained toxic contaminants.
Prosecution witness Michael Pallone said he started hauling loads of fill in one of Thomas Datre Jr.’s lime green tractor trailers in the fall of 2013. Pallone testified he picked up the debris from demolition sites in Queens and Brooklyn before dumping it at Roberto Clemente Park in Brentwood and a Deer Park wetlands area in Babylon Town.
Pallone testified Tuesday at the trial of Datre Jr. and his father, Thomas Datre Sr. The father and son are among six men indicted in December 2014 on charges related to the dumping of contaminated dirt and debris at four sites in Deer Park and Islip Town, including Roberto Clemente Park.
The Datres are charged with criminal mischief; endangering public health, safety or the environment; and operating a solid waste management facility without a permit.
Pallone and several witnesses were called by prosecutors Tuesday in an effort to establish how the dumping unfolded.
Suffolk County District Attorney Thomas Spota has said the dumped debris contained lead, asbestos, petroleum-based products, heavy metals and pesticides. The collective contamination at the four sites posed potential harm to Long Island’s groundwater aquifer system, the region’s only source of drinking water, Spota said.
The indictment charged the six in connection with dumping at the park, the wetlands, a six-home subdivision in Islandia for returning veterans from Afghanistan and Iraq, and a 1-acre lot in Central Islip.
“By no means,” Pallone answered when asked during cross-examination by Datre Jr.’s defense attorney, Kevin Kearon, if he suspected the loads he dumped contained contaminants.
“I wouldn’t be delivering hazardous materials unless it was going where it belonged,” he said, referring to a certified landfill. Pallone estimated it would cost anywhere from $400 to $1,000 to dump the debris at a landfill.
Pallone said he would do two to four runs a day to the city with Christopher Grabe, one of those indicted, as his dispatcher, but would “never” receive any paperwork from the job site where he’d get the fill.
He said he was never given documents that had any soil analytics, meaning any laboratory reports or test results on the fill he hauled to the two Suffolk sites, nor had anyone instructed him to obtain them.
Pallone said that in April 2014, Grabe instructed him to dump about 30 truckloads of fill at Roberto Clemente Park and about 50 more at the Atlas Asphalt site in Deer Park, owned by Ronald Cianciulli, another defendant in the case.
James Murphy, a maintenance mechanic with the Islip Town parks department, testified he was working on a shuttered pool at Clemente Park in 2013 while a soccer renovation project was underway and saw dumping there.
At least once, Murphy said, he voiced his concerns about the dumping to a foreman in the department but never complained to higher supervisors, including Joseph J. Montuori Jr., a former Islip Town parks commissioner also facing dumping charges. Murphy said he didn’t tell Montuori of his concerns because the parks commissioner “believed strongly in a chain of command.”
Murphy testified to seeing Montuori several times at the park during the project, and felt that since Montuori was there, the work being done would have been acceptable.
Richard Zapolski, a former Islip Town planning commissioner working there when the dumping occurred, testified Tuesday he became concerned about the park project after a former deputy parks commissioner questioned the town board at a meeting about whether permits were in place for soccer field renovations at Roberto Clemente Park.
An application was quickly submitted by the town parks officials on Sept. 6, 2013, to the planning department for a land clearing and grading permit. The town engineering department, after sending an engineer inspector to the site, signed off on the permit Sept. 11, Zapolski said. Zapolski said he himself had never been to Clemente Park.
On Jan. 24, 2014, after an incident at the park where a child was injured after sledding into debris at the bottom of the recharge basin, town officials, including Zapolski, Montuori, then-deputy supervisor Eric Hofmeister, then-town spokeswoman Inez Birbiglia, and a town attorney, held a meeting to discuss what was happening at the park.
Zapolski, who said he was told there were “multiple contractors” that brought fill to the park, testified he questioned the quality of fill after noticing rebar and a large piece of concrete in the soil.
Montuori “indicated he was taking care of it. . . . He was going to have them remove it,” Zapolski testified. “But there was no specific answers as to why it was there.”