Thirteen construction sites generated the roughly 40,000 tons of contaminated waste that was dumped at Roberto Clemente Park in Brentwood in 2013 and 2014.
Only one was on Long Island.
The property, unlike the others, was not being cleared for a large development, such as a Manhattan college dormitory or Bronx hospital addition, or new apartments in up-and-coming Brooklyn neighborhoods.
Instead, the project proposed by the property owners, John and Susan Khani, involved demolishing the existing single-family home on the plot they purchased in Kings Point and building a larger residence.
They just happened to set about doing so at a time when a waste broker was arranging for companies tied to Thomas Datre Jr. — the Clemente dumping scheme’s convicted “mastermind” — to dispose of material from numerous construction sites, including theirs.
According to a civil lawsuit filed by the state Department of Environmental Conservation, Datre was brought into the Khanis’ project by the broker, COD Services Corp. of Manhasset.
COD had been hired by Cipriano Excavation Inc., a Sea Cliff company that dug up the property to prepare the new home’s foundation, records show. Cipriano had been hired by Touchstone Homes LLC of Great Neck, the Khanis’ homebuilder.
Datre’s trucks made 22 trips from the site, taking construction waste that contained large quantities of ash to Clemente Park, the suit alleges. Ash, a byproduct of combustion often left at old industrial sites, typically contains heavy metals and other hazardous substances, according to the DEC, that required disposal at a regulated landfill.
These facilities — typically lined with impermeable walls and manned by staff that checks every truck coming in — aren’t allowed on Long Island because of the risks that hosting the contaminants they accept would pose to the region’s sole source drinking water aquifer. The closest such facilities are in Pennsylvania, authorities say.
“What those guys did was terrible,” Susan Khani said in a phone interview, speaking of Datre’s companies. “We were shocked when we heard this.”
Neither Khani nor her husband are defendants in the DEC’s still-pending suit, which names more than 30 companies tied to the projects that generated the illegally dumped construction debris. This includes Touchstone, Cipriano and COD — whose attorneys or representatives could not be reached or did not respond to requests for comment.
In responses to the lawsuit, however, the defendants deny accusations that they knew the material they were generating, handling or arranging to be disposed was hazardous, or that they knew it would be illegally dumped.
The suit seeks $3 million in damages from the closure for more than three years of the public park following the discovery of toxic debris on soccer fields and in a recharge basin.
“We’re the type of people that if we see a piece of paper on the ground at the park, we pick it up.”Susan Khani
While she said she couldn’t speak for the broker or Datre, Susan Khani said she doubts her contractors would have knowingly participated in an illegal dumping scheme.
“The people we hired were legitimate,” she said.
She said invoices she has been shown by the contractors don’t seem to show a discounted price that would clearly indicate illegal dumping. The couple also were never told the dirt on their property was contaminated, she said, and were led to believe it only needed to be excavated and replaced because it was too soft to hold the new home’s foundation.
That her family’s home construction is tied to an infamous Long Island environmental crime is made worse by the family’s support for charities supporting health and the environment, Susan Khani said.
“We’re the type of people that if we see a piece of paper on the ground at the park, we pick it up,” she said.