The Town of Islip has formally blamed a local company -- whose president is a long-standing political contributor and prominent business owner -- for the dumping of construction material in Roberto Clemente Park in Brentwood.
Letters written to four insurance companies on April 24 by Islip Deputy Town Attorney Michael Walsh, two days after the town was subpoenaed by the Suffolk County district attorney, say that Daytree at Cortland Square of Ronkonkoma is responsible for the dumping.
"Please be advised that our office received notice of dumping of construction material on town property" at Roberto Clemente Park, Walsh wrote. "We have completed our investigation and found that Daytree at Courtland [sic] Square is a responsible party," the letter added.
District Attorney Thomas Spota served an April 21 subpoena on the town. Earlier this month, Spota said that at least one "unscrupulous contractor" had dumped an estimated 32,000 tons of debris -- some of which contained asbestos -- at the park. He has not named any contractors.
Walsh's letters to the insurance companies represent the first formal notification by Islip as to who town officials believe is responsible for the dumping.
Explaining the letters to the insurance companies, Islip Town Attorney Robert Cicale said the town is taking "precautionary measures" if the district attorney's investigation does hold the company criminally responsible for the 32,000 tons of asbestos-laden debris that's been dumped in the park.
"We cast a wide net. If it turns out they had no involvement, then they have nothing to worry about," Cicale said.
One company, Tudor Insurance Co. of Franklin Lakes, N.J., told the town that it is "unable to provide coverage for this claim as we have been unable to locate a policy of insurance" for the date of the incident, Cicale said. None of the other three companies that received letters have responded.
Cicale said the town has yet to send out any more notice letters to insurance carriers. He would not disclose the names of any other companies the town is looking to put on notice.
In addition, the town did not disclose what kind of investigation it did or how it came to the conclusion that Daytree was responsible.
Clara Datre, president of the company, unsuccessfully ran for Islip Town supervisor as a Republican in 2007. With her husband, Thomas Datre Sr., the couple contributed or helped raise through fundraisers hundreds of thousands of dollars for the town GOP committee headed by Frank Tantone, with whom they once shared an office building in Ronkonkoma for about 10 years.
The day after Spota said that his office seized records from the Datres' corporate offices as part of his criminal probe, the town also sent a notice to Clara Datre that her company's tree contract with the town was to be terminated. Clara Datre, 66, is the principal owner of Daytree at Cortland Square and her husband owns a minority share, she said. The company had "nothing to do" with any illegal dumping at Roberto Clemente Park, Clara Datre said, characterizing the town's legal moves as "a witch hunt."
The letters set off a firestorm of criticism from the couple's attorney, Andrew Campanelli, who said last week that he plans to file a federal lawsuit this week against the town seeking monetary damages for breach of contract and a declaratory judgment that his clients are "in no way, shape or form a responsible party" for dumping materials "at any facility."
To the couple, the town holding Daytree at Cortland Square responsible is a personal affront.
"Me, the most strait-laced person in the world . . . here I am, facing the fact that I might be arrested," Clara Datre said.
Town was asked to fix fields
In June 2013, at least one contractor began dumping illegal fill into the park after Iglesia de Jesucristo Palabra Miel -- a church about 1 mile north of Roberto Clemente Park -- asked the town to fix up the park's two soccer fields, which needed repairing and reseeding, Spota said at a news conference earlier this month.
Trucks began bringing dirt mixed with broken glass, large chunks of metal, bricks and concrete, which continued despite church members asking them to stop, Spota said. A 25-foot-deep discharge basin at the south end of the park was partially filled and the soccer fields were raised 3 feet above original grade.
A town park ranger in November filed a report with the town's public safety department and alerted superiors to questionable dumping that was being done by a truck driver who said he was from "Datre," according to a document obtained by Newsday.
Kevin Kearon, an attorney for DFF Farm Corp. and its owner, Thomas Datre Jr. -- the Datres' son -- said the company worked on the project but only brought "permissible" fill to the site. The town has said one 90-day permit was issued Sept. 12 by its planning department to the parks department to place fill in the park.
Thomas Datre Jr. did not return calls for comment.
In January, DFF Farm Corp. removed 45 truckloads of fill, Kearon has said.
On one day in March, security camera footage inside the park recorded 48 truckloads of fill being dumped at the facility, according to sources.
And on March 24, the same park ranger -- Brendan Kearns -- witnessed five "Datre tractor trailers . . . drop what appeared to be topsoil on the soccer fields" at Roberto Clemente Park, according to a town public safety report obtained by Newsday.
Report: Dirt dumped on fill
The dirt was dumped on top of fill that was "dumped months ago," which "contained large quantities of brick, glass, crushed cement, large stones and clay," the report says.
Campanelli said two Datre trucks titled to Daytree at Cortland Square were seen at the park, but he did not know when. The trucks were used by and for DFF Farm but were titled to Daytree at Cortland Square for security purposes, Campanelli said. He did not elaborate.
Campanelli, as well as Thomas Datre Sr. and Clara Datre, said the couple was not involved in any way with the project in the park.
"It has nothing to do with us," Clara Datre said.
Last week, Kearon said he would not discuss aspects of truck ownership or vehicle use.
On May 6, Spota's office executed search warrants at the "Datre/Daytree" corporate offices in Ronkonkoma -- Daytree at Cortland Square Inc. occupies the downstairs front of the building and DFF Farm Corp. operates out of the rear of the same building, Clara Datre said during a May 14 interview at the offices.
In the past two weeks, the district attorney's investigation widened to other sites.
On May 17, soil sampling was conducted at a six-home veterans subdivision in Islandia, built last year by the Long Island Home Builders Care Development Corp. -- the charitable arm of the Long Island Builders Institute then headed by Thomas Datre Sr. Both Datre, 67, and his wife have held several leadership positions with the builders institute and were suspended from it on May 12.
The district attorney confirmed the presence of asbestos earlier this month on a privately owned 1-acre plot on Islip Avenue in Central Islip. Friable asbestos was also found in a second town park in a 10-by-10-foot pile at the Police Athletic League fields at Clayton and Lowell avenues in Central Islip, officials said.
Last week, investigators inspected a Deer Park site where officials say debris was dumped into a sensitive wetland that forms part of the watershed into the Great South Bay. That site is owned by April Masie, according to property records.
In addition, Environmental Protection Agency agents raided an abandoned Port Jefferson Station aviation factory May 13 as part of an investigation that sources said was looking into the treatment of hazardous materials from the site by DFF Farm.
'Everybody is laid off'
Clara Datre said the investigators as well as the town are failing to separate Daytree at Cortland Square and DFF Farm.
With their town tree contract gone, the Datres said they were forced to lay off a four-person crew as well as a secretary and their own daughter. They say their business is no longer operational since the district attorney confiscated all of its files, computers, checkbooks and petty cash.
"Everybody is laid off, nobody's working. This office is closed down. We're closed right now," Thomas Datre Sr. said. "We have nothing. The DA has all our stuff and we have nothing."
Clara Datre said the insurance carriers the town notified were connected to the tree contract she had with the town and trucks registered for the town's snow removal vendor list.
Campanelli, who said he has called the town attorney's office repeatedly and sent two letters to Walsh and hasn't heard back, said he doesn't understand how the town is blaming his clients.
"I believe they conducted no investigation," Campanelli said. "The sole basis for sending those letters was a political attack against my clients."
In the interview two weeks ago, the couple became emotional when talking about the companies their family has built over the past 40-plus years, at times choking up about how the accusations have "destroyed" their names and reputations.
"It's completely destroyed me," Thomas Datre Sr. said as he broke down in tears.
Campanelli also said he would appear before the town board Tuesday to address the Datres' concerns. "In my view, the town has not acted in good faith to any extent," Campanelli said. "We hope at some point in time, someone, either the town or the district attorney's office, will act responsibly and acknowledge my client's lack of involvement in connection with this matter."
Tantone, whose party has been the financial beneficiary of the couple's contributions, hasn't reached out to the Datres since the investigation began, according to the couple.
In an interview, Tantone said he has not spoken to the couple because of "an extraordinary circumstance" -- the district attorney's criminal investigation -- and their future relationship remains to be seen.
"I think we're all waiting to see what happens with the investigation," Tantone said. "We wish Tom well and I hope and pray that what he's saying is absolutely true."