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One defendant in dumping case pleads not guilty to tax evasion charge

Christopher Grabe, left and Thomas Datre Jr. stand

Christopher Grabe, left and Thomas Datre Jr. stand in the hall of District Court in Central Islip, June 17, 2015. Credit: Ed Betz

A defendant in the Islip dumping case pleaded not guilty to a seven-count felony indictment Wednesday that accuses him of evading nearly $30,000 in state taxes.

Christopher Grabe, 38, of Coram, was arraigned on the indictment that includes three counts of third-degree criminal tax fraud, one count of first-degree offering a false instrument for filing and three counts of third-degree criminal tax fraud, according to the indictment. Prosecutors at the time of his arrest in March on the tax case said he failed to report $476,281 in income to New York State from 2011 to '13 and evaded $28,922 in taxes.

"We're going to certainly defend it to the fullest," Grabe's attorney, Alia Richards, said outside court.

Just before Grabe's arraignment on the tax charges, Richards, along with attorneys for the five co-defendants in the dumping case -- Thomas Datre Jr.; his father, Thomas Datre Sr.; former Islip Town Parks Commissioner Joseph J. Montuori Jr.; his former executive secretary Brett Robinson; and Ronald Cianciulli of Atlas Asphalt in Deer Park -- gathered in state Supreme Court Justice Fernando Camacho's chambers in Central Islip.

The six, along with four companies, were indicted in December on charges related to a dumping scheme in and around Islip Town.

That same month, Datre Jr., his mother, Clara Datre, and his sister, Gia Gatien, were named in a 492-count indictment that alleged they padded invoices to Islip Town for work related to superstorm Sandy cleanup, in addition to failing to pay their workers a prevailing wage. Attorneys for the three also met with Camacho Wednesday.

While proceedings in chambers are off the record, Camacho discussed in open court the prosecution's desire to try the wage case first. Kevin Kearon, of Garden City, who represents Thomas Datre Jr. and his companies, requested the dumping case be the first to go to trial instead.

Kearon would not disclose his reasons for requesting the dumping case be tried first but said he has filed motions to dismiss the charges against his client. "We're waiting for those motions to be decided," Kearon said. "If the judge dismisses the indictment, there won't be a trial."

Richards, who took over as Grabe's attorney on both the dumping and tax evasion cases in March, said the discovery turned over by District Attorney Thomas Spota's office -- which has been said to contain roughly 50 discs of documents, photos and information -- shows "nothing."

"There's nothing there that links any of our clients to any wrongdoing," Richards said outside court.

Camacho said he would determine the order of the trials after both sides submitted motions in July but added that attorneys on both sides should "clear your calendars" starting Sept. 29 for a trial.

If prosecutors are successful in their bid to try the wage case this year, the dumping case likely wouldn't be tried until next year, Camacho said. He added that prosecutors expected the wage trial to last two to three weeks, while the dumping trial would take two to three months.

Prosecutors also said they have withdrawn plea offers made to the defendants in the wage case after defense attorneys said they would reject them.

Datre Jr. and Clara Datre were offered prison time, while Gatien was offered probation, prosecutors said. All three offers included they make full restitution of $288,000 to the victims, including about $130,000 to the Town of Islip based on the amount of alleged overbilling. All three also would have had to take the plea bargains.

"The plea offers that were made were . . . ridiculous," said Kearon. Andrew Campanelli of Merrick, who represents Thomas Datre Sr., Clara Datre and her company, Daytree at Cortland Square, called the plea offer "kind of a waste of time.""My clients are looking forward to their day in court," he said. "They have this hanging over their heads."

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