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Northport VA Medical Center. File photo

The Northport Veterans Affairs Medical Center’s homeless shelter closed their doors for repairs 18 months ago and never reopened.

Congressional leaders from all four Long Island districts want to know why and are demanding that the 50-bed facility, which they say is ready for inhabitants, welcome homeless veterans once again. 

“The closure of Northport’s on-site homeless shelter has forced veterans to find accommodations far from the medical services they need — the services that oftentimes help mitigate the root causes of homelessness,” said Rep. Lee Zeldin (R-Shirley), Rep. Tom Suozzi (D-Glen Cove), Rep. Kathleen Rice (D-Garden City) and Rep. Peter King (R-Seaford) in a prepared joint statement.

The veterans who stayed at the VA’s shelter suffered mainly from traumatic brain injury, post- traumatic stress disorder and substance abuse, according to Frank Amalfitano, president and CEO of Beacon House, the non-profit entity that managed the facility before it closed.

“It would be a tragedy if the place didn’t reopen, because so many people need the convenience of the services offered in one location,” he said. 

Northport’s  shelter closed in January 2018 for renovations to the heating system. Its closure was prolonged because the contractor hired by VA failed to update the building in accordance with current fire codes, according to information provided by Long Island’s congressional leaders. 

“As it has been presented to us, Building 11 has now been brought up to code and is ready to be inhabited,”  they said in a press release. “However, due to VA’s decision to terminate the on-site contract with Building 11’s vendor, with neither a communicated reason nor a viable replacement, we now find ourselves sixteen months later with a renovated building and no vendor in place to provide this vital service to our community’s veterans.”

Levi Spellman, press officer for the Northport VA Medical Center, said the contracting requirements are changing for the shelter, so that it can potentially be awarded to a for-profit, veteran-owned business. “We are actively expediting this process and anticipate resuming on-site services before the end of the year,” he said. Spellman also stated that Beacon has done a great job for the VA. “Although housing moved off-site, the same vendor is managing those shelters and the care we provide our veterans has not changed.”

Amalfitano said his contract for the Northport shelter was supposed to last until 2020. He’s been encouraged to reapply, but his organization may no longer qualify.

Beacon House manages 42 residential programs in Nassau and Suffolk counties for veterans. The mission of the 25-year-old, non-profit, which is funded by United Way, is to “help veterans regain their self-worth and empower them with the tools necessary to rejoin their communities as independent and productive citizens.”

Lisa Cooper embraces her son Dante Lombardo at a recent reunion. Photo from Lisa Cooper

Mental health, particularly among service members, often seems to be a forgotten topic. One man and his Northport High School friends want to change that by riding bicycles this June from New York to California to raise awareness about mental health concerns among those who have served our nation’s military. 

Dante Lombardo in uniform. Photo from Lombardo

Dante Lombardo is a former U.S. Marine who was medically discharged due to his mental health. The East Northport resident,  who graduated from Northport High School in 2015, served in the U.S. Marine Corps Reserve from 2015 to 2019. He was trained as a digital wideband transmission equipment operator and as a field radio operator. 

Throughout Lombardo’s time in the Marine Reserves, he struggled with depression and anxiety, and like many others in a similar position, tried to “tough it out,” because that’s what he said the current military culture dictates. “Nearly anybody who has served can tell you that it is highly frowned upon to seek out mental health care,” he explained.

These issues came to a head in April of last year for Lombardo, when he attempted to take his own life. Thankfully, he was connected with a local behavioral health service, giving access to the counseling and the psychiatric care he needed. 

“Had it not been for these services, I do not believe I would have ever begun the path to wellness that I am on today,” said Lombardo.

Unfortunately, many service members suffer from similar mental health issues but do not seek out the help provided by the military, Lombardo said, in fear of being separated from duty due to their issues.

The statistics are staggering.

“We see 20 veterans each day take their own lives,” said Barbara Van Dahlen, a clinical psychologist who created in 2005 a national network of professionals who provide free services to U.S. troops, veterans, their loved ones and their community. “People think that because the war is over, so are the challenges, but that’s not the case.” 

‘People think that because the war is over, so are the challenges, but that’s not the case.’

— Barbara Van Dahlen

As for Lombardo, he may no longer wear his Marine uniform, but he and his bike team are committed to fighting for their fellow service members. 

Lombardo, Brian Fabian and Anthony Rubin, all Northport High School graduates,  just earned their college degrees. Lombardo graduated from Clinton College, Fabian from SUNY Plattsburgh last weekend and Rubin from SUNY Buffalo. Now, they’re raising money in a GoFundMe campaign to pay for expenses that occur throughout the trip. Proceeds remaining will be donated to Give an Hour, which earns exceptional ratings as a charity on Guidestar. 

Give an Hour was chosen, the bike team stated, because it is an organization that is not affiliated with the Department of Defense and can provide mental health services to those in need, without running the risk of negative consequences from the service members chain of command. Lombardo said that the charity could provide service members the opportunity to get help and start healing before their issues become a crisis that demands the official attention of their command, or one that brings harm to themselves or others, while simultaneously defending them from the stigma of needing mental health care while serving.

“The need is huge,” Van Dahlen said in a phone interview. She is honored and grateful for Lombardo’s efforts to raise awareness and funds for the non-profit. 

Van Dahlen emphasizes the need for collaborative approach to address the issues. “We really can take care of the understandable mental health needs of those who serve and their families,” Van Dahlen said. “If we work together and coordinate services — we in the government, nonprofit and private sectors — our country can hopefully step up to serve those who have given so much.”

Northport residents Dante Lombardo, Brian Fabian and Anthony Rubin are riding bicycles cross-country to raise awareness about military mental health issues. Photo from Coast to Coast for Mental Health, Dante Lombardo’s supporters.

It’s a concept that Lombardo and his bike team understand. “This fight is not one person’s burden to bear, but instead one we face together.”

During the team’s travels cross-country, they plan to volunteer in soup kitchens, homeless shelters, elderly care homes and other places that offer opportunities to give back. Their journey aims to seek out and hear the testimonies of veterans nationwide so their stories may be heard. 

The bike team has created a Facebook group page, Coast-to-Coast for Mental Health, which will be updated to post stories and experiences of the team, as well as testimonies of those who have suffered. This trip is a humanitarian interactive wellness journey as seen through three young Long Island men who are raising awareness for those who suffer with mental health issues all too often in silence. 

Lombardo encourages people to share the funding page, the Facebook page, as well as sharing their own stories. His message to the public, “We’ll be seeing you on the trail.”

The Times of Huntington will provide updates of the team’s journey in upcoming issues.

The GoFundMe page, Give an Hour website and an overview of the charity from Charity Navigator  can be found at: 

GoFundMe: www.gofundme.com/tmt6z-coast-to-coast-for-mental-health

Give an Hour: www.giveanhour.org

Charity Navigator: www.charitynavigator.org/index.cfm?bay=search.summary&orgid=17415

Watermill Catering Hall requests special exception to allow a new four-story hotel. Photo from the Town of Smithtown

The Smithtown Town Board will hear at its May 23 meeting a request for special exception to allow the construction of a 130-room hotel at the Watermill Caterers’ catering hall on the southeast corner of Route 347 and Terry Road.

The site is currently zoned for industrial and neighborhood business and will need to be granted the special permission for a hotel, according to Allyson Murray, principal planner in the town’s Planning Department.

The project’s size, height, parking and traffic are issues that board members will evaluate.

Ultimately, the board will either approve or deny the project, or ask the applicant to modify the plans. But the Planning Department expects the meeting to be a hearing, where the public speaks.

“Residents can rest assured that the Town Board has been working closely with our Planning Department on this prospective plan,” town Supervisor Ed Wehrheim (R) said. “We’ll be meeting with the attorneys for the project Friday, May 17, to go over the proposal that was submitted for the project.”

Watermill and the new hotel is owned by Anthony Scotto Restaurants, the same organization that runs Insignia restaurant in Smithtown and Blackstone Steakhouse in Melville, among other high-end hospitality and food service establishments. 

The proposal will allow its catering hall guests, which are often out-of-town wedding guests, the option to spend the night there.

Nicole Garguilo, the town’s press officer said that the hotel idea could potentially become a benefit to local businesses and turn into significant tax revenue for the community.

Donald King, lawyer for the proposed hotel from Kings Park, said that he is happy to meet with residents and experts in the nearby communities, if necessary, to answer their questions. 

The applicant submitted site plans in November 2018 following a Planning Board review in April 2018. The board found the application to be out of compliance with a range of standards.

“Before the plan is approved, the project would need to comply with all standards,” Murray said. “Or else the applicant could request Zoning Board Appeals approval.”

The Town Board will not be able to approve the plan on May 23, because no State Environmental Quality Review Act analysis has yet been conducted, Murray added.

State Sen. Jim Gaughran (D-Northport) hands out survey cards at local rail stations and seeks commuter input. Photo by Donna Deedy

The electrification of the Long Island Rail Road’s Port Jefferson Branch is back on the table, and government officials say they’re optimistic about the prospect, since now there’s some money to fund the idea.

New York State Sen. Jim Gaughran (D-Northport) during an informal interview May 9 at the Huntington train station, where he was personally handing out commuter surveys, said he predicts that the line will become fully electrified within the next five years. 

Morning commuters at the Huntington station where many switch trains to go both east and west. Photo by Donna Deedy

“It’s been talked about for decades,” he said. “It’s time to make it happen.”

Currently, the branch east of Huntington uses diesel or double-decker, dual-fuel trains, that are prohibited in Manhattan. Commuters between New York City and points east of Huntington on the Port Jefferson Branch must change from diesel to electric trains, or vice versa for the reverse commute, at various junctions, typically in Huntington. The process is time consuming and inconvenient for passengers, who are often subject to inclement weather on an open platform. Electric trains would eliminate the need to change trains and would create a time-saving, one-seat ride to Manhattan. 

Gaughran, who is serving his first term in the state Senate, has been a major proponent of the MTA Rail Act, an overhaul plan, which Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) signed into law last month. New York State’s 2019-20 budget funds the overhaul and includes an expected $1.5 billion in capital projects for the Long Island Rail Road. Funds will be used for a variety of needs, but new trains and increased service are top priorities, according to Gaughran’s office. 

Electrification makes sense now, Gaughran said, because it would help address both congestion at Huntington’s station, which serves 41,440 daily weekday riders, while speeding up the slow commute to New York City.

Gaughran said that he’s already taken steps to advocate for electrification. He’s also conducted mobile town halls on trains during the morning commute to solicit passenger input on all rail service issues and will present passengers comments from his surveys to railroad officials later this year. 

Details from the Long Island Rail Road 

The LIRR is currently evaluating proposals, according to its spokesperson, and will soon award contracts to begin the electrification studies for both the Port Jefferson Branch and the Central Branch, which connects Babylon to Hicksville via Bethpage. The studies will determine what is required to complete each project.

Overall, the electrification project, in addition to a new fleet, would require significant investments in infrastructure such as new substations, a third rail and a second track between Huntington and Port Jefferson, upgrades to half-dozen platforms and work on bridges, viaducts and crossings, according to LIRR’s spokesperson. Additional train storage yard(s) will also be needed. 

The railroad does not yet have funding for construction but is seeking it for the Central Branch electrification in its 2020-24 capital program. Port Jefferson electrification would require additional funding in several other future programs. 

A faster, one-seat ride 

A common complaint among passengers interviewed for this report during the May 9 morning commute aboard trains on the Port Jefferson line supported the need for more rapid service. 

“It takes two hours to get to New York City from Stony Brook,” said John Morgan, a mathematician at Stony Brook University’s Simons Center for Geometry and Physics, who uses the train twice a week. “It’s too slow.” 

Larry Penner, a former Federal Transit Administration director in the New York region, who is familiar with MTA operations, capital projects and programs, said the one-seat ride to Manhattan in general is the best bang-for-the-buck idea for improving rail service for riders. 

“That would be a regional game changer for us.”

— Margot Garant

“Electrification of Ronkonkoma was selected over Port Jefferson back in the early 1980s,” Penner said. “Perhaps this time, Port Jefferson will come out on top this go-around almost 40 years later.”

Penner noted that the electrification of the railroad’s Central Branch east of Hicksville to Babylon holds the potential of creating a new north/south service route, which will provide detours to Jamaica during major service disruptions on the main line between Hicksville and Jamaica. 

For years, local elected representatives have recognized the commercial value and the resulting tax revenue benefits of electrification. 

“That would be a regional game changer for us,” Port Jefferson Village Mayor Margot Garant said during a phone interview.

The Long Island Rail Road is the busiest commuter railroad in North America, carrying an average of 301,000 customers each weekday on 735 daily trains. It’s comprised of more than 700 miles of rails on 11 different branches. For most lines, the terminus is Penn Station in Manhattan, with some lines originating or ending in Queens and Brooklyn.

The Huntington line, in addition to serving 41,440 daily weekday riders, serves another 11,210 travelers on the Port Jefferson line. 

District Attorney Tim Sini (D) pointing to a photo of one of the defendants, Guillermo Linares Alvarez, showing an 18th Street gang sign. Photo from DA’s office

Suffolk County District Attorney Tim Sini (D) and Homeland Security Investigations of New York announced May 14 the indictment of three 18th Street gang members for allegedly conspiring to murder two individuals they believed were MS-13 gang members.

 “This is one of many cases where my office and Homeland Security worked together to not only bring bad actors to justice, but to actually prevent violence,” Sini said. “We are no longer responding or waiting for tragedy to strike; we are taking a proactive approach, and due to excellent law enforcement work, we are preventing murders.”

 Wilber Campos Chicas, know as “Troya,” 25, of Port Jefferson Station; Guillermo Linares Alvarez, known as “Extrano,” 19, of Huntington Station; and Isidro Aguirre Canelas, known as “Chino,” 26, of Centereach, are each charged with one count of conspiracy in the second degree, a felony.

 Chicas and Canelas have been identified by law enforcement as members of the Tiny Locos clique of the 18th Street gang, which is based in Port Jefferson Station; and Linares Alvarez has been identified as a member of the Shatto Park Locos clique, located in Huntington Station.

 An investigation by the district attorney’s office and Homeland Security that began in March revealed intelligence that Chicas, Alvarez and Canelas allegedly conspired to murder two victims who they believed were members of MS-13, which is 18th Street’s rival gang.

Between March 15 and April 24, the defendants allegedly took several steps in furtherance of the murder conspiracy, including sharing photos and descriptions of the two targets and their whereabouts. The defendants were allegedly going to use two machetes, which were owned by Alvarez, to murder the two victims. They also allegedly discussed obtaining a car to use while carrying out their attacks.

“But for the dedication and professionalism of Homeland Security, these murders likely would have occurred.”

— Tim Sini

The three defendants, all of whom entered the United States illegally, were apprehended by Homeland Security agents in April.

“Working quickly, agents were able to take all three defendants into custody before they were able to execute their plan,” Sini said. “But for the dedication and professionalism of Homeland Security, these murders likely would have occurred.”

 “Homeland Security and Suffolk County will not stand for violence at the hand of any gang member,” said Gerald Handley, assistant special agent in charge of Homeland Security New York. “Whether the intended victim is innocent or a known member of a gang, we pay the same attention to the details and remain as proactive as possible to stay in front of the violence. We will stand united with our law enforcement partners and continue to arrest and seek prosecution of gang members.”

 The three defendants were arraigned on the indictment on March 13 by Suffolk County Acting County Court Judge Karen M. Wilutis and were remanded without bail.

 If convicted of the top count, the defendants each face a maximum sentence of eight to 25 years in prison. Chicas, Alvarez and Canelas are due back in court respectively on May 29, 30 and 31. 

 “Today is the latest example of Suffolk County law enforcement using the conspiracy statutes under New York State law to prevent violence,” Sini said. “We are collecting intelligence, analyzing that intelligence and disseminating it in a way that is allowing us to prevent violence and hold dangerous gang members accountable. None of this would be possible without the partnership between my office and Homeland Security as well as other law enforcement agencies.”

Huntington High School. File photo.

The Huntington Union Free School District finalized the 2019-20 proposed budget, which totals $133.5 million, an increase of 2.83 percent and $3.6 million over the current year’s spending plan. The new budget would raise the tax levy by an estimated 2.58 percent. The tax levy cap amount would be $110,400,611. A home assessed at the district average of $3,415 would see an increase of $220.27. The tax rate will go from $239.36 to $245.81 per $100 of assessed valuation, an increase of 2.69 percent.

Huntington will be receiving $17.9 million in state aid, which is an increase of over $340,000 from the current year budget. Foundation aid for 2019-20 totals at $9.7 million an increase of $225,573. 

The 2019-20 budget will allocate $372,640 for new text and print resources, $93,000 for new computer software, ww$41,900 for new library resources and $200,000 for new instructional equipment, including computers and tablet devices. The budget would also allow for continued core curricular and digital resources, enhanced social and emotional learning program, expanded library and digital media programs, elementary guidance program extension and facility and technological upgrades.

At the May 21 vote, residents will be able to approve an additional proposition that would fund an estimated $3.9 million worth of projects. According to the district, it will not result in any increase in taxes since the funds exist in a reserve fund established to cover costs with renovation and reconstruction work.

Huntington High School

•Replacement of set of boilers that are more than 60 years old: $1.5 million

•Partial roof replacement: $1 million

•Turf athletic field replacement: $650,000

•Perimeter safety netting system enhancement and replacement at the turf athletic field: $55,000

•Replacement of goal posts at the turf athletic field: $41,000

•Building total: $3.246 million

Finley Middle School

•Replacement of the building’s student lockers that are 54 years old: $600,000

Huntington Union Free School District board of education candidates

Huntington school district board of education candidates: This year there will be three trustee seats open on the ballot. The top two finishers will win election to three-year terms commencing July 1 and running through June 30, 2022. Current two-term trustee Bari Fehrs has chosen not to run for re-election.

Bill Dwyer 

Current board member Dwyer will be seeking re-election for the 2019-20 school year. He has been elected a member previously in 2008 and 2013, which includes a tenure as board president. Dwyer and his wife, Karen have resided in Huntington for the past 21 years and they are the parents of three Huntington High School graduates. 

Michele Kustera

The challenger has lived in the district for the past 16 years and has a daughter in her freshman year at Huntington High School and a daughter who is a sixth grader at Woodhull Intermediate School. Kustera has volunteered and raised money for the Michael J. Fox Foundation Team Fox by running the New York City marathon twice. She has served on the district’s Long-Range Planning Committee, Food Allergy Committee and serves as the PTA council president. 

Joseph Mattio 

Mattio and his wife, Stefania, have resided in Huntington for the past 21 years. They currently have two sons attending district schools; a sixth-grader at Jack Abrams STEM Magnet School and a junior at Huntington High School. The Huntington resident has served on the Huntington Booster Club’s board of directors for the past five years and has coordinated field house operations on game days during that time. He has been active in the community, coaching teams in the St. Hugh’s basketball, Huntington Village Lacrosse Club and Huntington Sports League football organizations. 

Smithtown school district's administrative Joseph M. Barton building on New York Avenue. Photo by Kyle Barr

Smithtown Central School District has prepared a 2019-20 budget of $251.3 million, which represents a 2.66 percent budget-to-budget increase and a tax levy increase of 2.69 percent, which is within the district’s state-imposed cap.

The proposed budget, in addition to supporting the district’s financial goals, maintains the school’s comprehensive academic, athletic and extracurricular programming, as outlined on the district’s website, while increasing funding for security and student mental health services.

The school’s elementary class size stays capped at 25 students, while the math program will add teaching assistants. Two social workers will be added at the elementary and high school levels. The district will also add three guidance counselors.

The district’s three-part budget breakdown provides an overview of spending in three categories: programs, capital projects and administrative costs. For 2019-20, $187.2 million is allocated to programs, $34 million will go toward capital projects and $30.2 million will be used to pay administrative costs.

The Smithtown Central School District is divided into four voting districts and residents can vote at the designated elementary school based on location. The four elementary schools include Smithtown Elementary School, Nesconset Elementary School, St. James Elementary School and the Accompsett Elementary School. Residents can use the Voter Location Tool under the Board of Ed tab on the district’s website: www.smithtown.k12.ny.us. Polls will be open Tuesday, May 21, 6 a.m. to 9 p.m.

Candidate rundown

Michael Catalanotto of Smithtown and Peter Tofu of  Nesconset will be running for board member Daniel Lynch’s seat, who has chosen not to run for re-election. The seat is for a three-year term beginning on July 1.

Board member Michael Saidens will be running for his seat unopposed. Saidens has served on the board since 2017, which includes a tenure as vice president. His seat would be a three-year term beginning on July 1.

Trustee Frank James will be running for re-election unopposed for his seat that will have a one-year term from May 21,2019 to June 30, 2020.

Ralph Michele of Smithtown and Jerry R. Martusciello of Nesconset will be vying for board member Glady Waldron’s seat after she decided to not seek re-election. Her seat will be for a one-year term from May 21, 2019 to June 30, 2020.

Northport-East Northport school district. File photo

Three seats are open, and three candidates are running for the Northport-East Northport Board of Education. All three candidates have a range of experience in the education field. One incumbent, Allison Noonan, who is seeking a second term, is among the people on the ballot.

Larry Licopoli

Larry Licopoli, now retired, was a school superintendent for 22 years and has lived in the Northport community for 17 years. Two of his children graduated from Northport High School in 2011 and 2013, and he has two young grandchildren who currently live in the district. 

Licopoli, according to his published statements, would like to see more transparent and easier to understand budget process and strategic plans. He would also like the board meetings to incorporate a more friendly public comment portion that “ditches the timer.” As a board member, he hopes to better engage the community in the district’s schools. 

“As a professional educator for 47 years, I believe my experiences can further serve the Northport-East Northport community as we grapple with revenue and enrollment issues and, more importantly, what it means to educate the whole child,” Licopoli said. “I will be that board member who will collaborate and work with the whole board focusing on our district mission.”

Thomas Loughran

Thomas Loughran works as a federal litigation paralegal for a law firm that represents the interests of school districts, municipalities and police departments. He is currently finishing his Bachelor of Arts degree at Fordham University, majoring in organization leadership and political science. He’s been a district resident most of his life. 

Loughran’s published statements on the district’s website explains that one of his goals, if elected, would be for the district to better utilize the committee structure to address issues such as potential declining enrollment. He also would like the board of education to exhaust all options to reduce the tax burden on citizens. 

“I am running for the board of education because I have lived in Northport/East Northport for most of the last 40 years. I love this community,” Loughran said. “I started becoming involved in the school district several years ago, by attending board of education meetings, and it didn’t take long to figure out that the school district is facing some serious obstacles.”

Loughran said that he plans to use his skills and passion for his community to help the school district that he grew up in.

Allison Noonan

Allison Noonan has worked in public education for 25 years and is currently employed as an educator in the Syosset Central School District.  A Northport resident since 2009, She has twin 9th graders in the district. Noonan has previously served as co-president of the district’s PTA council and in 2012 the National PTA Founders recognized her with a life achievement award. Noonan has also been honored in 2014 by the Harvard Club of Long Island as a Distinguished Teacher of the Year. 

Noonan says she is well-versed in the LIPA case. That issue and shrinking enrollment are two matters she considers the most pertinent for the community to address through long-term planning that involves all stakeholders.

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The Smithtown Historical Society hosted a Spring Farm Festival in celebration of the season May 4. The family event included children’s games and crafts, pony rides and a petting zoo. 

Artisans demonstrated traditional farm skills, such as sheep shearing, yarn spinning and weaving, wood-working and ironworking. The barn and carriage house were also open for the public to view. 

All photos by David Ackerman.

Investigators identify and continue to investigate Operation Pay Dirt, New York State’s largest alleged dumping conspiracy. Photo from Suffolk County District Attorney’s Office

Smithtown resident Anthony “Rock” Grazio, the self-proclaimed “dirt broker,” plead guilty in an alleged illegal dumping conspiracy on Long Island.    

Smithtown resident Anthony ‘Rock’ Grazio. Photo from Suffolk County District Attorney’s Office

Suffolk County District Attorney Tim Sini (D) announced the guilty plea May 2 after digging into the issue over the last 15 months. Thirty people, including Grazio, and nine corporations were indicted in November 2018 in an ongoing investigation called Operation Pay Dirt.

More than 24 Long Island dump sites were involved in the alleged conspiracy.

“As I’ve stated before, we are facing an epidemic of environmental crimes in Suffolk County,” Sini said. “This case was a great first step forward in ending those crimes. This plea, and Grazio’s pending prison sentence, will send a strong message to polluters that crime does not pay.” 

Between January and July 2018, as part of the alleged illegal dumping conspiracy, Grazio would allegedly act as a dirt broker by arranging for locations where trucking companies could illegally dispose of solid waste. Grazio posted advertisements on the website craigslist and on OfferUp, a marketplace app, for “clean fill,” or material that could be used for residential landscaping projects. He also solicited homeowners over the phone and in person for locations to use for dumping. Grazio would then coordinate with the owners or operators of trucking companies and solid waste management facilities to have solid waste illegally dumped at those properties.

In February 2018, the District Attorney’s Office, New York State Department of Environmental Conservation and Suffolk County Police Department began an investigation into the alleged Island-wide conspiracy. The months-long investigation involved the use of electronic and physical surveillance, including court-authorized eavesdropping. 

“During their phone conversations, Rock and the owners or operators of the trucking companies would discuss residential and commercial sites and the amount of material that could be dumped at a particular site,” Sini said. “The bigger the property, the better for the defendants, as this scam was all about making money.” 

Sini said that when an ideal property was found, Grazio could often be heard directing his co-conspirators to “hit it hard.” 

“This is a situation where people deliberately skirted the law to line their pockets with money and acted out of pure greed at the expense of the public health of residents of Suffolk County,” Sini said. 

DEC testing of the illegally dumped solid waste found that six of the locations contained acutely hazardous substances and 17 sites contained hazardous substances under New York State Environmental Conservation Law. The acutely hazardous substances included aldrin, dieldrin and heptachlor, which are all pesticides. The hazardous substances identified include arsenic, beryllium, cadmium, cobalt, chromium, copper, lead, nickel, zinc and mercury, which are all metals.

Nineteen of the 24 locations are residential, four are commercial and one is a school. The solid waste dumped at the school was immediately removed.

Grazio, 54, plead guilty to two counts of criminal mischief in the second degree, a felony; two counts of endangering public health, safety or the environment in the third degree, a felony; conspiracy in the fifth degree, a misdemeanor; and operating a solid waste management facility without a permit, a misdemeanor.

Grazio is scheduled to be sentenced by Suffolk County Supreme Court Justice Timothy Mazzei July 15. Pursuant to the plea agreement, Grazio faces a sentence of two to four years in prison and a restitution judgment order in the amount of $500,000. This case is being prosecuted by assistant district attorneys Luigi Belcastro, Laura Sarowitz and Adriana Noyola of the Enhanced Prosecution Bureau.

The investigation is ongoing, and Sini convened a special grand jury in November to hear evidence and make recommendations regarding illegal dumping in Suffolk County. The grand jury is still impaneled. 

Residents who believe they are a victim of illegal dumping can contact the Suffolk County District Attorney’s Office at 631-853-5602 or InfoDA@suffolkcountyny.gov. They can also contact the NYS DEC’s 24-hour Poacher and Polluter hotline at 1-844-DEC-ECOS, 1-844-332-3267.

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