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DA: Asbestos confirmed at site raided in Central Islip

An investigator collects samples of debris at a

An investigator collects samples of debris at a dumping site at Route 111 and Sage Street in Central Islip on Tuesday, May 13, 2014. Photo Credit: James Carbone

Investigators found asbestos at a second site Tuesday within 2 miles of Brentwood's Roberto Clemente Park and now believe multiple sites in the Town of Islip may have been used to dump illegal fill by the same contractors.

Preliminary tests at the contaminated site at the corner of Islip Avenue and Sage Street in neighboring Central Islip showed the presence of asbestos and debris "very, very similar" to that at the park, Suffolk County District Attorney Thomas Spota told a news conference.

"We have learned from sources we have recently developed there is a possibility of other dump sites involving the same contractor," Spota said.

Last week, Spota said that at least one "unscrupulous contractor" had illegally dumped an estimated 32,000 tons of construction and demolition debris that contained asbestos in the park.

Tuesday he said the investigation would concentrate on "unfinished and recently completed construction projects" and include "both private and public vacant property that could be used for dumping throughout the town."

"It appears to us there are some contractors that think they can dump toxic material in the Town of Islip without consequence," Spota said. "The residents can be assured, there will be consequences for these contractors."

The third site to come under scrutiny is a six-home charitable development built for veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan in Islandia -- where a lieutenant from the state environmental crimes bureau working with the district attorney's office on the probe went door-to-door speaking with residents Tuesday.

Fill supplied by a company associated with the Datre family was used at the site where six homes were built as part of a "Building New Homes for Returning Veterans" program on 3.5 acres of donated land, according to Mitch Pally, the head of the Long Island Builders Institute, whose charitable arm created the building program.

Each of the backyards had freshly tilled fill, while the front yards have sod. Sources said that testing will be done on that fill in coming days.

Last Tuesday, investigators from the district attorney's office seized corporate records, computers and checkbooks from the Ronkonkoma headquarters of "Datre/Daytree" family companies in connection with the criminal inquiry in Roberto Clemente Park. Thomas Datre Jr. heads a trucking firm, DFF Farm Corp. His parents, Thomas Datre Sr. and Clara Datre, own Daytree at Cortland Square Inc.

Prominent fundraisers

The couple are prominent fundraisers in the Town of Islip and until Monday had a longtime affiliation with the Long Island Builders Institute.

Tom Datre Sr. was co-chair of its political action committee and a former president. His wife, also a former president and now director, ran as GOP candidate for town supervisor in 2007. The institute suspended the couple's membership Monday in the wake of publicity about the raid.

Islip Town, meanwhile, took steps to terminate a contract with Daytree at Cortland Square and to remove Tom Datre Sr. from the plumbers examining board, where he has served since 1981.

Andrew Campanelli, attorney for Daytree at Cortland Square Inc., said Thomas Datre Sr. "is unaware that anything inappropriate was brought" to the Islandia site.

Kevin Kearon, the attorney for DFF Farm Corp., said the firm had a permit to take "permissible" fill to the park and was proud to help build the homes in Islandia.

At the Central Islip site Tuesday, investigators used a hand-cranked auger to drill 8-foot test samples from piles of debris as high as 20 to 30 feet. Broken concrete, brick, glass and crushed debris spilled out onto the street through a broken wire fence. A rusty concrete crusher stands in the middle of the site.

At his news conference, Spota showed July 2012 photos of the property owned by L-C Real Estate Group and the adjacent house, owned by Tommy Lau, that showed no evidence of dumping.

Tuesday, residents and people working nearby said large, 18-wheeler trucks came and went constantly, being loaded from the site all day through last summer and fall.

"Preliminary testing by our office just a while ago indicates asbestos present at the site," Spota said at his news conference. He referred specifically to construction shingles found near the Sage Street sideas testing positive for asbestos.

Spota again criticized Islip Town, saying it had been "disturbing" to learn residents had made complaints about the Sage Street site on a town phone line where they left their details, but never heard back.

"It's certainly upsetting to hear that people are claiming they made complaints and heard nothing in return," he said.

Islip Town spokeswoman Inez Birbiglia said residents' complaints have not been ignored. "The residents have called and we have been taking action," she said.

On July 12, 2013, a resident called the town to complain about large mounds of concrete and dirt at the site as well as a machine that filtered the concrete, according to Birbiglia. The complaint, which was sent to the town's public safety department, was validated by town personnel, Birbiglia said.

Business records show L-C Real Estate Group is registered to Lau. Officials said Tuesday that Lau was wanted in connection with solid waste violations.

The state Department of Environmental Conservation began an investigation into solid waste violations at the Islip Avenue property in 2013, spokeswoman Lisa King said. "We generated a Notice of Violation, but have not been able to serve it due to an inability to locate the property owner, Tommy Lau," she said.

The town had the same problem. Twice last month officials unsuccessfully tried to serve Lau with seven appearance tickets to the real estate firm he owns for storing heavy construction equipment and debris at the site. Finally, officials tracked him down at a Commack business address, Birbiglia said.

Harold Steuerwald, an attorney for Lau according to Town of Islip documents, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Campaign contributions

Campaign contribution filings show L-C Real Estate Group has made $39,600 in contributions to Islip Republicans since 2005, including a $5,000 contribution to Clara Datre when she ran for supervisor. The rest of those donations, to the Town of Islip Republican Committee, were made since June 2011 -- including a $13,100 donation in August last year.

Another Lau company, Laundry Depot, made $1,500 in contributions to Islip Democrat Renee Ortiz in 2011.

Roger Escobar, 35, has lived across the street from the site for the past 10 years. He has three children, ages 12, 8 and 31/2.

Escobar said dumping at the site has been going on for the past three years, and for the past year, he has not been able to open the windows to his house without dust and dirt clouding up the rooms.

"My little girl has asthma," an emotional Escobar said of his 8-year-old. "You can't breathe because of this stuff, you just choke."

Escobar said that after his kids come home from school, they're forced to stay inside due to the constant swirling dust in the air, especially when the concrete crusher has been used.

"We don't know what's in this stuff," he said. "What happens later? What happens if one of us is dead? What happens then?"

Lau took over the 1-acre property from Edward Hocker sometime around 2004, Birbiglia said. It is zoned as Business 1, which does not allow for the outdoor storage of construction materials, she added.

In 2009, the town's planning department approved a site plan submitted by Lau for a laundry, but the plan was never executed, Birbiglia said. Lau owns several laundry firms on Long Island, business records show.

On April 2, the town issued seven appearance tickets to LC Realty, owned by Lau, after town investigators found there was prohibited storage of a roll-off trash bin and cesspool rings. Other tickets were issued for a misuse of property because the owner allegedly allowed and maintained dumping of crushed concrete, dirt and construction debris on the property, according to Birbiglia.

The owner was also cited for having a sandstone payloader on the property, which is prohibited by the town, and for possessing a demolition permit that expired on Aug. 28, 2012, without having removed debris after tearing down a structure on the property, Birbiglia said.

"We are in court and we served tickets and residents' concerns have not been ignored," she said.

Lau is due in Suffolk County Court on June 25.

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