A defense attorney for one of two defendants accused of dumping contaminated debris at four Suffolk sites questioned two state environmental investigators Thursday over what he described as their inaction when visiting two of the sites.
Kevin Kearon, representing Thomas Datre Jr. asked one of the lieutenants with the state Department of Environmental Conservation about the agency’s initial January, 2014 inquiry into allegations of dumping at Roberto Clemente park in Brentwood.
“Isn’t it true that in January, 2014, the DEC was at that park, made observations of what was going on, conducted an investigation and decided to close its file on the activities at that park?,” Kearon asked Lt. Matthew Blaising, a conservation police officer with the DEC.
Blaising answered that the officer “attempted to gain access in January and the park was locked up. He could not get in. The whole park was covered with snow so the officer was unable to see.”
The DEC began its investigation into dumping at Islip Town-owned park shortly before notifying Suffolk County District Attorney Thomas Spota, who launched his investigation in April 2014.
A special grand jury impaneled later that year indicted the Datres along with four others in connection with dumping at the park; a private, 1-acre lot on Islip Avenue at the corner of Sage Street in Central Islip owned by Tommy Lau; a sensitive wetlands area in Deer Park and a six-home subdivision in Islandia built for Afghanistan and Iraq War veterans.
Blaising and Lt. Frank Lapinski, in charge of investigations with the DEC’s bureau of environmental crimes, took the stand in state Supreme Court in Central Islip on the trial’s the 14th day Thursday.
Datre Jr. and his father, Thomas Datre Sr., face charges of criminal mischief; endangering public health, safety or the environment; and operating a solid-waste management facility without a permit. Datre Jr.’s charges relate to all four sites, while Datre Sr.’s charges are connected to Islandia.
In cross examination Thursday, Kearon asked Blaising if his agency has the authority to contact the property owner — in this case the Town of Islip — to request access to the property, if its locked. He also asked Blaising if the DEC can compel a property owner to allow his investigators access. Blaising answered yes each time.
During earlier questioning by Assistant District Attorney Michelle Pitman, Blaising said he visited the Islip Avenue site in August 2013 after the DEC’s solid waste division asked him to deliver a notice of violation to Lau and dated July 26. Blaising said when he arrived, he saw piles of “what appeared to be construction and demolition debris” as well as cesspool rings and equipment.
Kearon asked Lapinski if he had followed a Datre truck in Oct. 2013 that passed by the Islip Avenue site to Clemente Park, about a mile away.
“You followed him into Roberto Clemente Park,” Kearon said to Lapinski. “You watched him dump a load of materials onto the soccer field and then you introduced yourself to him. You gave him your business card and you asked him to give your card to his boss. Didn’t that happen in Oct. 2013?.”
Lapinski acknowledged he followed the truck into the park, gave the driver a business card but “I don’t recall him dumping.”
Kearon then referred Lapinski to his earlier testimony that he had first been to Clemente Park on April 9, 2014, when he had been there six months prior.
“I didn’t know it was Roberto Clemente Park at the time I was there,” Lipinski told Kearon. “In fact, until he reminded me, I didn’t realize that was the same place.”
“You can say that with a straight face?,” Kearon shot back.
Kearon asked Lapinski if he saw anything at the park at the time that caused him any concern or alarm. Lapinski said no.
“You took no action to stop whatever activities you were observing from taking place deep into the rest of the year 2013 or any part of the year early 2014 until you arrived again for some purpose in April, correct?”
“I didn’t observe any activities to act on,” Lapinski said.
Spota has said tens of thousands of tons of contaminated construction debris was dumped at Roberto Clemente Park beginning in spring 2013, through the summer and up to April 2014 when his investigation commenced. A Suffolk police officer testified earlier in the trial he first saw mounds of materials at the Islip Avenue site in 2012.
Lapinski is expected to return to the witness stand Tuesday, when the trial resumes.