Smithtown couple faces charges of building on sensitive town land next to their property
A Smithtown couple faces town charges they illegally built a shed and foot bridges and cut down trees on environmentally sensitive town land next to their house.
Dominick and Kathleen Ciocia, of Riverview Terrace, were charged after a January investigation by town Public Safety Department staffers working with staffers from the state’s Department of Environmental Conservation and Suffolk County’s recently formed Biological, Environmental and Animal Safety Team.
A scheduled hearing Tuesday before Judge Paul Hennings in Suffolk's Fourth District Court was adjourned. They are due back June 13.
Dominick Ciocia, 62, pleaded not guilty Feb. 7 to trespassing, tree removal without a permit, alteration of environmentally sensitive land and building without a permit, according to court records. The charges are violations, typically punished with fines of $50 per violation for the first offense and up to $100 for subsequent violations.
Kathleen Ciocia, 57, faces the same charges. John Zollo, the Smithtown-based lawyer representing the Ciocias, said Kathleen Ciocia had also pleaded not guilty.
Smithtown officials said that a separate investigation into illegal hunting on the town land led to the discovery of the Ciocias' alleged encroachment on about 2 acres of public land.
Smithtown Councilman Tom Lohmann, a retired NYPD detective who is the council’s Public Safety liaison, said in a Tuesday phone interview that the “DA’s office is actively looking into this for environmental crimes … I’ve never seen something this egregious in my time with the town.”
Encroachment on the Nissequogue River corridor's environmentally sensitive land "can have devastating effects such as water quality issues, sediment loading and a loss of habitat for both aquatic and land base species," Lohmann, a Republican, said in a news release from the town in February.
A spokeswoman for the DA's office wrote in an email that the office does not "confirm, deny or comment on investigations."
Zollo, in a Tuesday phone interview, said that “the town has brought its case — we will address the issues and let them play out in court.” Zollo said he was unaware of any possible criminal investigation. A DEC spokeswoman said the agency's officers wrote no violations during a Feb. 2 visit to the site but that their investigation was ongoing.
The Ciocias’ home overlooks the Nissequogue River and abuts 31.26 acres of town land to the south. According to town records Newsday obtained through a Freedom of Information request, Public Safety investigators who visited Jan. 11 found a shed, sprinkler system and 20-foot retaining wall on the town land, along with a children’s playset and 11-foot bridges over a stream. Boulders had been placed along the stream, four trees had been removed and wetlands abutting the town property had been burned.
According to property records, the Ciocias bought their 1.25-acre property in 1997.
On Suffolk County's GIS system, an overlay of property boundaries combined with aerial views of the area appear to show a cultivated lawn extending south of the Ciocia property as early as 2004.
Viewed through brush on the town land on Tuesday, rolling lawn was visible with foot bridges, a shed and neatly stacked piles of wood.