Former Islip Town Parks Commissioner Joseph J. Montuori Jr. and his ex-secretary pleaded guilty Wednesday to charges in connection with the dumping of 40,000 tons of contaminated debris at Roberto Clemente Park in Brentwood.
Montuori pleaded guilty to one felony count of endangering the health, safety or environment and one misdemeanor count of conspiracy.
His former secretary Brett A. Robinson pleaded guilty to a violation of disorderly conduct, in which his actions created a hazardous and physically offensive condition at Clemente Park.
The pair were the last defendants of six individuals named in a December 2014 indictment to face trial in the dumping that occurred at four sites in and around Islip Town from 2012 to 2014.
State Supreme Court Justice Fernando Camacho deferred both men’s sentencings and instructed them to aid in the reconstruction of the park and to work with Islip Town officials “to make sure that safeguards are put in place so that what happened in this case never ever happens again.”
Jury selection was to start in the first week of September if a plea agreement wasn’t reached. Montuori and Robinson were accused of helping Thomas Datre Jr., a hauler from a politically connected family, dump the toxic construction and demolition material he trucked in from sites across New York City.
Both faced a dozen criminal counts for their alleged roles in allowing the dumping at the park that took place from May 2013 to April 2014: five counts of third-degree endangering public health, safety or the environment; two counts of fourth-degree endangering public health, safety or the environment; two counts of operating a solid waste management facility without a permit; two counts of official misconduct, and one count of sixth-degree conspiracy.
Datre Jr. and Christopher Grabe of Islandia Recycling pleaded guilty to several felonies on March 30 for their roles in dumping at the various sites.
Charges against Thomas Datre Sr., who along with family members contributed thousands of dollars to the town Republican and Conservative parties, were dropped when his son pleaded guilty.
Montuori pleaded guilty to the E-class felony count of endangering the public health, safety or the environment, while acting in concert with Datre Jr. and Grabe, and “recklessly engaged in conduct which caused the release to the environment” of more than 2,000 pounds of any aggregate weight or volume of a substance hazardous to public health, safety or the environment.
Montuori also pleaded guilty to a B-class misdemeanor of sixth-degree conspiracy, “with intent that conduct constituting the crime of official misconduct be performed,” according to the indictment.
Assistant District Attorney Mark Murray said the charge referred to “his conduct with respect to failing, quite frankly, in a number of his capacities as a steward at the park during this time period.”
Montuori’s attorney, John Halverson, defended his client’s record of public service to Camacho, noting that he has been a part of the East Islip Fire Department since 1974, spent nine years on the East Islip school board, and continues to be a member of the East Islip library board, a post he’s held for 22 years.
“He’s ready to put this behind him,” Halverson said, adding that the East Islip resident is the main caregiver for his “very ill” wife.
“This happened during his watch . . . he will take responsibility for that,” Halverson said.
In accepting the plea, Camacho asked Montuori if it was true that “you were aware what Thomas Datre Jr. was doing and in your position with the town, you did not meet your responsibility to make sure that was stopped. You permitted it to continue. You were aware and consciously disregarded the risk by letting Tom Datre Jr. continue doing what he was doing, that there was a substantial and unjustifiable risk that those hazardous substances would be released. Is that true?”
“Yes, your honor,” Montuori answered.
Montuori also admitted that he conspired with others to commit the crime of official misconduct, in agreeing with others to benefit one another, to unlawfully allow dumping into the recharge basin at Clemente Park.
Camacho instructed Montuori that as part of his plea deal, he is to “cooperate in every aspect with Town of Islip officials, to assist them in any way they need you to assist them, to accomplish what I believe is everyone’s ultimate goal to reopen Roberto Clemente Park.”
“You will act in good faith and you will do anything they need you to do,” Camacho said. “Is that your understanding?”
Montuori, who stood with this hands clasped in front of him, answered, “Yes, your honor,” before accepting the terms of the plea and waiving his right to appeal.
If he complies with the terms and helps rebuild Clemente Park, Camacho said he will take his efforts “into consideration” at sentencing and will possibly lower the top felony charge to a misdemeanor. The conspiracy charge would stand, Camacho said.
Robinson’s maximum jail time for the violation, which is not a criminal disposition, would be 15 days. If he complies with the terms, Robinson’s charge could ultimately be sealed, Camacho said.
The dumping at the park occurred over nearly a year beginning in spring 2013, prosecutors said, after a local church began a volunteer project to reconstruct dilapidated soccer fields so the congregation’s Sunday’s soccer league could play on a safe field. The park had long been neglected by the town, church members have testified.
At the time of the indictments, Murray said Montuori and Robinson knew about the dumping at the park and did nothing to stop it.
Montuori was forced to resign his post days after Suffolk District Attorney Thomas Spota announced his investigation, and Robinson was fired shortly after.
Robinson’s attorney, Patrick O’Connell, of Central Islip, told Camacho he thought the plea deal was “fair and reasonable.”
Murray said offering Robinson a plea was an “equity-based decision” in light of the guilty pleas by Montuori, whom Murray described as a “principal actor.” Robinson was charged as an accomplice, Murray said.
“Mr. Montuori was the commissioner and was the decision maker,” Murray said. “Mr. Robinson was a subordinate to him and certainly is in a different place in his life in terms of his experience and knowledge and this plea is reflective of that.”
Both Montuori Jr. and Robinson are due back in court Oct. 13 for an update conference with Camacho.
Dumping indictment dispositions:
Thomas Datre Jr. and his company, 5 Brothers Farming Corp.: Both pleaded guilty on March 30 to four felonies each for dumping contaminated materials at four Suffolk sites. Awaiting sentencing.
Thomas Datre Sr.: Charged along with his son in dumping at the Veterans Way subdivision in Islandia; charges dropped March 30.
Christopher Grabe, owner of Islandia Recycling: Pleaded guilty on March 30 to two felonies for his role in dumping at Roberto Clemente Park and a private 1-acre lot on Islip Avenue in Central Islip. Awaiting sentencing.
Ronald Cianciulli, owner of Atlas Asphalt: Found guilty on June 3 of two felonies and two misdemeanors after a six-day bench trial for helping Datre Jr. dump into a sensitive wetlands area in Deer Park. Awaiting sentencing.
Joseph J. Montuori Jr.: Pleaded guilty Aug. 17 to a felony and a misdemeanor for allowing the dumping of hazardous materials at Roberto Clemente Park. Awaiting sentencing.
Brett A. Robinson: Pleaded guilty Aug. 17 to a disorderly conduct violation for having knowledge of the dumping at Roberto Clemente Park but failing to stop it. Awaiting sentencing.