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NY attorney general files suit in Brentwood Clemente Park dumping

New York State Attorney General Eric Schneiderman takes

New York State Attorney General Eric Schneiderman takes questions during a news conference on March 15, 2017 in Manhattan. Credit: Getty Images / Drew Angerer

A federal civil suit filed Thursday by the state attorney general’s office is seeking damages “in the millions of dollars” against two individuals convicted in the dumping of 40,000 tons of contaminated debris at Roberto Clemente Park in Brentwood.

The suit, filed in U.S. District Court, is also seeking monetary damages against more than two dozen companies that have not been previously associated with the dumping.

The suit takes aim at those the state Department of Environmental Conservation have alleged played a role in getting the hazardous debris to the park. At a news conference, Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman said the suit will get those parties “to pay their debt to the Brentwood community for years of loss of access to the park.”

Schneiderman spoke outside the gates of the park, which has been shuttered since April 2014. No amount was named in the suit, but Schneiderman said the state would be seeking “millions of dollars” in damages.

GPS records obtained by the environmental protection bureau in Schneiderman’s office were used by investigators to track the truckloads back to 13 construction sites, mainly in New York City, but also in Nassau and Suffolk counties, where the debris originated, Schneiderman said.

“We identified people at every stage of the chain,” Schneiderman said. “Under the federal Superfund and New York’s nuisance law, they’re all liable for these damages and we intend to pursue everyone who bears some responsibility for this.”

Last week, a state Supreme Court judge in Central Islip sentenced Thomas Datre Jr. to one year in jail for each of the four class-E felonies he pleaded guilty to last March for the dumping at Clemente Park and three other Suffolk sites. The jail sentences will run concurrently.

Datre Jr.’s company, 5 Brothers Farming Corp., which also pleaded guilty to four felonies, was ordered to pay the maximum fine of $600,000. He was sentenced to conditional discharges for four misdemeanor counts of operating a solid waste management facility without a permit.

Christopher Grabe of Islandia Recycling, who had pleaded guilty to two felonies for his role in dumping at the park and at a Central Islip site, received a sentence of six months, with 30 days to be spent in jail and the remaining five months doing community service. Grabe was also sentenced to five years’ probation.

The suit names a total of 34 defendants, including Datre Jr. and his company, and Grabe. Of the other 31 defendants, only one — Daytree at Cortland Square Inc., owned by Datre Jr.’s parents, Tom Sr. and Clara Datre — had been criminally charged for dumping at the park.

An attorney for Datre Jr. said he had not seen the suit and declined to comment. Grabe’s attorney did not immediately respond to calls for comment. Andrew Campanelli, the attorney for Daytree at Cortland Square Inc., said criminal dumping charges against the company have been dropped and that the company “was not involved in any way in the dumping at the park. Period.”

The Town of Islip removed 40,000 tons of contaminated debris from Clemente Park in the summer of 2015, but the hamlet’s largest park remains closed and under reconstruction.

Sections of the park, including soccer and baseball fields, are set to open this summer, town officials have said, but the decrepit pool is still in need of renovations. Town officials have said the pool repairs and construction of a new spray park are to be finished by the summer of 2018.

At the news conference, Assemb. Phil Ramos (D-Bay Shore) called the suit a step toward “restorative justice” and said Schneiderman has promised that “every penny” won from the suit “will come back into this community.”

Meanwhile, several other sites in Suffolk County are under investigation for illegal dumping. Newsday reported on Wednesday that the state DEC is probing possible illegal dumping sites or operations in Holtsville, Cutchogue and Bay Shore.

In October, Suffolk County District Attorney Thomas Spota announced that hundreds of truckloads of finely pulverized materials containing hazardous substances had been found dumped at Sweet Hills Riding Center within West Hills County Park in Melville.

Criminal charges have not been filed for dumping at any of these sites.

The day before Datre Jr. and Grabe were sentenced last week, Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone signed legislation that increases penalties for dumping in county parks, including up to a year in jail for people caught dumping waste and construction debris on county parkland, roads or rights of way. The legislation increased fines from $5,000 to $15,000 for businesses or corporations that dump non-construction, demolition or hazardous waste.

Schneiderman acknowledged the open cases but said there is “a unified and stronger commitment” between community activists and officials on the town, county and state level to attack the problem.

“This is another step toward justice,” Schneiderman said of the lawsuit. “There will be many other steps to protect this community and other communities affected by this kind of conduct. We will not tolerate it and it’s not going to stand.”

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