Times of Smithtown

Suffolk County Legislator Rob Trotta. Photo by Sara-Megan Walsh

A proposal for Suffolk County sue former  police chief James Burke over the $1.5 million settlement it paid out to his victim was tabled by the county Legislature as legal advice on the best approach to seek reparations differed.

The county’s Ways and Means Committee held a public hearing Dec. 13 on Legislator Rob Trotta’s (R-Fort Salonga) resolution to have Suffolk District Attorney Tim Sini (D) initiate a lawsuit against Burke for the settlement the county paid out to Christopher Loeb in February 2018.

Legislator Bridget Fleming (D-Sag Harbor),the chairwoman of the committee, cited a memo from county attorney Dennis Brown that advised Trotta’s proposed lawsuit “would likely be unsuccessful but could expose us to [court] sanctions and attorney fees.”

“As the committee has discussed, there is no way to recover or recoup the settlement dollars paid in that lawsuit.”

— Dennis Brown

“There is no basis for it,” Brown said when questioned. “As the committee has discussed, there is no way to recover or recoup the settlement dollars paid in that lawsuit.”

In the federal civil lawsuit, Suffolk agreed to pay the $1.5 million settlement as Burke’s employer at the time for the civil rights offenses and the actions of six other police officers who participated in covering up the ex-chief’s actions. Burke retained his own private attorney and settled Loeb’s civil case against him for an undisclosed sum, according to Fleming.

Howard Miller, a Garden City-based attorney with the law firm Bond Shoeneck & King, presented a case for the county suing Burke for his wages and compensation paid by the county under the faithless servant doctrine. This doctrine, according to Miller, dates back to the 19th century allowing employers to seek compensation back from disloyal employees.

“Here, the facts are egregious as you had not only beating of the suspect but systematic coverup of that,” he said. “This doctrine is designed to create a deterrent to future acts like this, of corruption and misconduct.”

Attorney Howard Miller speaks before Suffolk County Legislature. Photo by Sara-Megan Walsh

Miller stated doing so wouldn’t necessarily require further court litigation, given Burke had pled guilty, but could help Suffolk to claw back wages and any benefits paid to the former police chief from the date of the incident with Loeb, occurring in 2012, through Burke’s resignation in October 2015. While he admitted a lawsuit to see back the $1.5 million settlement was iffy, Miller said he has successfully represented clients at the state level who have been successful in similar lawsuits, including the William Floyd school district.

“What would be a successful lawsuit in my opinion, a plainly meritorious suit would be to go after the compensation [Burke] was paid while he was covering up his misconduct,” Miller said.

Fleming called for the county attorney to research the county’s legal possibility further and received a vote to table the discussion. Trotta has promised to submit an new resolution seeking to sue Burke for repayment of his salary.

Several Suffolk residents and former police department members asked the Legislature to further investigate what its legal options were for seeking repayment of the settlement, Burke’s salary or pension.

“You as the legislative body of our county have a fiduciary responsibility to Suffolk residents to go after the employees whose actions harm their employees, thus harming Suffolk County residents,” Pam Farino, of Smithtown, said. “Disgraced ex-chief James Burke did just that.”

Huntington resident James McGoldrick complimented Trotta for his intentions but asked the county’s officials to consider the cost of any legal action, considering the total funds Suffolk stood to regain might not be enough compared to the expenses of further litigation.

By Bill Landon

Smithtown High School West’s varsity wrestling team got off to a shaky start on the mats, but battled their way back Dec. 14.

Northport High School briefly took a 19-18 lead over the West Bulls, but Smithtown dropped the hammer late. The team defeated the Tigers, 41-21, in the League III matchup.

The win puts the West Bulls at 2-0 for the season, while Northport dropped to 1-1. Next, Smithtown will take to the road to compete against Mount Sinai in a nonleague match Dec. 21 at 7 p.m. The Tigers will travel to take on Riverhead Dec. 21 at 4:30 p.m.

Pete Lopez, the regional administrator for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, speaks about funds. Photo by Kyle Barr

Local environmental groups are anticipating expanding Long Island Sound education and cleanup initiatives, thanks to both state and federal funds.

As part of the 14th annual National Fish and Wildlife Foundation’s Long Island Sound Futures Fund initiative, federal and New York State officials announced Dec. 3 that 36 new grants totaling $2.57 million will go to environmental groups in Connecticut and New York, and $586,000 of those funds will benefit New York organizations.

“The funding is seed money investment for launching additional resources, pulling people together and bringing people together in conversation,” said Pete Lopez, the regional administrator for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

U.S Rep. Lee Zeldin (R-Shirley) attended the event in the Port Jefferson Village Center and spoke about the grants. Photo by Kyle Barr

Lynn Dwyer, the program director of the fund, said the projects were selected by an unbiased, unaffiliated group of environmental experts. The money is reaching these groups as experts say the marine life in the sound has come under threat. In September the Long Island Clean Water Partnership, an advocacy collective supported by the Rauch Foundation, released its yearly report that showed dangerous amounts of poisonous algae blooms in coastal regions from Port Jefferson Harbor to Huntington Harbor. In addition, more and more areas are expressing hypoxia, or a lack of oxygen in water necessary to support marine life. Experts in the partnership said both of these are due to excess amounts of nitrogen in the water, mostly due to aging septic tanks and cesspools all across Long Island.

Several of the projects center on beach cleanup and environmental stewardship. The North Fork-based nonprofit Group for the East End will be receiving $67,542 to remove invasive plants and develop habitat restoration plans for the Hallock State Park Preserve in Riverhead.

Environmental advocacy group Citizens Campaign for the Environment received $45,000 in grants to conduct a public education campaign to reduce plastic pollution on local beaches in both Nassau and Suffolk counties. Adrienne Esposito, the director of CCE, said the project will gather 500 pledges to reduce throw-away plastic use and engage close to 200 volunteers in coastal cleanups on beaches across the North Shore. The group will be adding an additional $45,000 in matching funds from its own funds for the project.

“We will be distributing reusable metal straws, so people can use those in place of plastic straws,” Esposito said.

In addition to the public education campaign, which will start in January 2019, she said the advocacy group is commissioning a local artist to build a giant metal wire-mesh turtle to be placed in Sunken Meadow State Park. The turtle will be filled with all the plastic debris the volunteers pick-up during their beach cleanup to be viewable by the public. Esposito said she expects the beach cleanup and mesh turtle to be done during summer 2019.

“These birds depend on our Long Island beaches to safely nest, rest, forage and raise their young without the threat of disturbance.” — Sharon Bruce 

The New York chapter of the National Audubon Society is receiving $41,009 from the fund for its continuing Be a Good Egg environmental education program encouraging people to share the waterside with shorebirds. The society will be focusing its efforts on a number of beaches, including at Hallock State Park Preserve, Stony Brook Harbor and along Nissequogue River. Sharon Bruce, the communications manager for Audubon New York, said some of the birds they wish to protect include the piping plover, least tern and American oystercatcher, all of which nest directly on the sand.

“These birds depend on our Long Island beaches to safely nest, rest, forage and raise their young without the threat of disturbance,” Bruce said.

Other projects look to beautify and increase biodiversity in coastal areas. The Long Island Explorium, located in Port Jefferson Village, is receiving $43,626 in grant funds to install native plant rain gardens in high visibility areas such as in front of its building on East Broadway and the corner of East Broadway and Main Street.

“There’s a visual component to it and an educational component,” said Angeline Judex, Long Island Explorium executive director. “It will show to the 800,000 visitors to [Port Jefferson Village] how rain gardens improve the water quality of the harbor.”

Suffolk County Legislator Rob Trotta. File photo by Rachel Shapiro

Suffolk Legislator Rob Trotta confirmed he will throw his hat in the ring for county executive in 2019 — by launching a grassroots campaign, if necessary.

Trotta (R-Fort Salonga) said he wants to run against incumbent Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone (D) next November in an effort to tackle a series of what he called wasteful spending decisions, illegal fees and poor contract negotiations that have negatively impacted Suffolk taxpayers.

“No one can afford to live here anymore, kids are leaving in droves,” Trotta said. “I think I could make a difference.”

No one can afford to live here anymore, kids are leaving in droves. I think I could make a difference.”

— Rob Trotta

The representative of Suffolk’s 13th District denounced several of the county’s 2018 capital projects as “wasteful spending.” He rattled off examples including the approved plans for construction of a new fingerprint lab in Yaphank, a study for a guardrail outside Rocky Point High School and a resolution to spend $150,000 for the design of a new K-9 headquarters and kennel for Suffolk County Police Department — which ultimately was voted down in July. Trotta said significant taxpayer money could have been saved if the design work, planning and studies for current and future capital projects were performed in-house rather than hired contractors.

“Do you think we have architects capable of designing a dog kennel? Of course we do,” he said. “That is what’s wrong with the county. That is why I want to run for county executive, because it would never happen.”

The legislator alleges the county’s financial woes are a direct result of Bellone’s negotiation of the 2012 police contract. The eight-year contract gave approximately 400 of Suffolk’s top ranking cops a 28.8 percent pay increase, according to Trotta, over the course of six years costing taxpayers from $55.4 million to $72.3 million. Negotiations between Suffolk County and Police Benevolent Association for the next contract will start in 2019, with the next county executive to expected to play a main role.

“The reality is we can’t afford to pay them what we’re paying them,” said Trotta, who retired as a Suffolk County detective in 2013. “If they had gotten a cost of living increase — which everyone else on the planet would be happy with — we’d be in much better fiscal shape.”

Since the 2012 contract, the Republican pointed out that Moody’s Investors Services has lowered the county’s bond rating by five ranks from March 2012 to this September. The county has borrowed $171.3 million from its sewer fund and $384.4 million from the state pension fund in order to keep paying its contractual salaries and pensions — mainly the Suffolk County Police Department, according to Trotta.

“It’s unsustainable,” he said.

Trotta has spoken out against a number of county fees including the red-light camera program, the alarm registration fee, mortgage recording fee and cremation fees, many of which he alleges generate money Suffolk needs to pay its cops. He’s filed legislation to limit the county’s fees in 2017 and 2018, which failed both times.

If they had gotten a cost of living increase — which everyone else on the planet would be happy with — we’d be in much better fiscal shape.”

— Rob Trotta

The county-executive hopeful said he plans to launch a grassroots fundraising effort by creating a website where supporters can donate to his campaign, with a suggested contribution of $80 because it’s the equivalent of a red-light camera ticket — a program he’s called for to be suspended, if not shut down. Trotta said he cannot morally accept funds from any public sector unions he’d be expected to negotiate contracts with, such as the Police Benevolent Association, although not prohibited by campaign finance laws.

“I might not get elected because of that,” he said. “I might not be able to get my message out.”

John Jay LaValle, chairman of Suffolk’s Republican Committee, confirmed Trotta is a possible candidate for county executive, but the party will not make any official decision until January. The legislator wasn’t concerned about vying for his party’s nomination.

“I think competition is good,” Trotta said. “I think hearing different people’s views are good. Ultimately, the party will come together and pick someone, whether it’s me, [county Comptroller] John Kennedy or whoever else.”

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A  Nesconset school that provides  educational opportunities for deaf children is pleading for the public’s help in funding a new playground for its students.

The yard outside Cleary School for the Deaf in Nesconset lies barren, as old split railroad ties square off desolate sections of rock devoid of any slides or swings. Jacqueline Simms, the school’s executive director, said the school was forced to remove its 30-year-old wooden playgrounds in May after an engineer determined they were “inappropriate” and did not meet New York State Department of Education’s safety requirements.

Since then, parents of its deaf students have launched a GoFundMe campaign seeking to raise $100,000 toward a playground.

These are school-aged children with disabilities who don’t have a playground.”

— Nicole Abbene

“These are school-aged children with disabilities who don’t have a playground,” Nicole Abbene, of Smithtown, said. “They already feel different in regard to their disability, so for them to have a playground would allow them to have the same opportunity as every other child.”

Abbene said her son, Liam, has attended Cleary since he was 3 months old in their Parent Infant Program, designed for children with profound hearing loss from birth through age 3, with their families. Now, at age 4, he’s in a full-day preschool program for children ages 3 to 7 that has approximately 50 enrolled students from 36 school districts across Suffolk County.

“We have a growing enrollment — a huge growing enrollment — that we are meeting with our [state] legislators to see if we can do something about,” Simms said.

The executive director said the state’s funding for the school has not increased proportionally to the influx of students, leaving it tight on funds for capital improvements and the latest technology needed to assist its hearing-impaired children. Simms said she has applied to several grant programs but has yet to be awarded any money.

I took them outside, and we started to play hide-and-seek. There was no place to hide.”

— Katie Kerzner

“We’ve been trying to do everything to accommodate our population and help with the struggle of not having a playground,” she said.

The school’s staff has set up a small portable jungle gym, a few sand tables and set out tricycles and foot-powered minicars for the children to play on the blacktop. It has created a small play loft in its library, but Principal Katie Kerzner said these don’t fully fill the gap with the opportunities the children would have with an outdoor playground.

“I took them outside, and we started to play hide-and-seek,” she said. “There was no place to hide.”

Kerzner said teaching her preschool children games has been difficult without a playground. In addition, the principal said students’ interaction on playground equipment can provide vital life lessons.

“For children with hearing loss, they need opportunities to practice having those language experiences,” she said. “For our kids it’s all about language. They need more typical, realistic situations to practice their skills.”

We are all aching to have something for the spring.”

— Katie Kerzner

The GoFundMe campaign launched by Abbene has raised more than $6,000, as of press time, for an age-appropriate playground for children ages 3 to 7. Cleary’s executive director said the school once had three playgrounds divided by age group: birth to age 3, ages 3 to 7, and a third for older school-aged children in its full-time summer programs. The school has received an estimate of $150,000 to replace one playground, according to Simms, and would require significantly more funds to purchase new age-appropriate, handicapped-accessible equipment for all its students.

“We are all aching to have something for the spring,” the principal said. “Our goal is when the kids open that door, after the snow melts, there’s something out there that will facilitate their play.”

In recent weeks, the GoFundMe campaign has captured the attention of some local businesses, who have stepped forward offering aid, and community residents. Simms said one generous individual stepped into the school to donate $150 in person, not sure how to give via the website. While she is “extremely grateful,” Cleary still needs to raise significant funds.

“The playground presents itself as a must,” Kerzner said. “It’s not something on a wish list. It’s a have-to-have.”

Sully sits by former President George H.W. Bush. Photo from Instagram @sullyhwbush

A service dog raised in Smithtown won the hearts of thousands across the nation by demonstrating, perhaps, why dogs may truly be man’s best friend till the very end.

An Instagram photo of Sully, a 2-year-old yellow Labrador retriever, laying besides the flag-draped coffin of the late President George H.W. Bush posted by his spokesman Jim McGraff with a simple caption of “Mission complete” from Houston Dec. 2 went viral, quickly receiving more than 270,000 likes. The dog’s trainers at America’s VetDogs in Smithtown could only watch from a distance with mixed feelings.

“It hit us all very emotionally,” Brad Hibbard, chief program officer for America’s VetDogs said. “It was very sad for him, for George H.W. Bush’s family and Sully. Sully had quite a bond with the president, he slept in his room every night. It was so emotional, very sad but also with pride.”

President George H.W. Bush with President Bill Clinton and Bush’s guide dog Sully

Sully, named after the former airline pilot Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger III who safely landed a damaged jet on the Hudson River in 2009, was trained by America’s VetDogs earlier this year for Bush. The sister nonprofit organization to the Guide Dog Foundation trains and places guide dogs for veterans and first responders who are blind, have impaired vision or have lost their hearing. In addition, they train service dogs for those who suffer physical disabilities or have been diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder.

Hibbard said starting with Bush’s very first phone call to VetDogs about receiving a service dog, the 41st president expressed his concerns what would happen to the dog should something happen to him. After a lengthy discussion, the former president expressed that he wanted Sully to serve at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda, Maryland, where he had first learned about the nonprofit organization.

“There was no doubt in our minds what the president’s wishes were,” Hibbard said.

Sully will go to work alongside two fellow VetDogs graduate canines, Sgt. Dillon and Sgt. Truman, at Walter Reed medical center next year, according to Hibbard, to help assist thousands of servicemen and women who pass through the facility while undergoing physical and occupational therapy.

“Sully will be able to have a huge impact there,” Hibbard said.

Sully lies at the foot of President George H.W. Bush’s coffin.

After the late president’s funeral, the 2-year-old service dog was brought back to the VetDogs’ Smithtown campus, located on East Jericho Turnpike, for some well-deserved rest and decompression during the holidays before making his next transition. Hibbard said the nonprofit is currently in communication with Walter Reed about the facility’s needs, and Sully will undergo any necessary additional training, possibly in the area of assisting with occupational training, before heading back to work early in 2019.

Once in Maryland, Sully will officially join the U.S. Navy — the same branch George H.W. Bush served in — and be given an honorary military rank as per tradition according to Hibbard. Sully’s fans may be happy to know his trainers are seeing if it’s possible to keep his Instagram account, @sullyhwbush, running.

To learn more about America’s VetDogs, donate or volunteer, visit www.vetdogs.org or call 631-930-9000.

Elaine Gross, Christopher Sellers, Crystal Fleming, Miriam Sarwana and Abena Asare speak about race at ERASE Racism forum. Photo by Kyle Barr

In a politically charged time, race is seen as a third-rail issue, one that if touched leads to political headache in the case of a politician or a rough time around the holiday dinner table for everyday folks.

Which is why Elaine Gross, president of Syosset-based ERASE Racism, which wishes to examine and make meaningful change to race relations in New York, said Long Island was the perfect time and place to start meaningful conversations about race and racism, both in the overt and covert displays of prejudice.

“Even though we are becoming more diverse, that doesn’t mean we have what we want going on in our schools,” Gross said. “Long Island is home to 2.8 million people so we’re not a small place, but tremendously fragmented.”

The nonprofit, which was originally founded in 2001, made its first stop at Hilton Garden Inn, Stony Brook University Nov. 29 during a five-series Long Island-wide tour called How Do We Build a Just Long Island? The mission is to start a dialogue about meaningful change for race relations in both Suffolk and Nassau counties. Four panelists, all professors and graduate students at Stony Brook, spoke to a fully packed room about their own research into the subject and took questions from the audience on how they could affect change in their own communities.

Christopher Sellers, history professor and director of the Center for the Study of Inequalities, Social Justice, and Policy, has studied what he described as “scientific racism,” of people who look at the superiority and inferiority of other races as an objective truth, an idea that was born during the enlightenment and colonial period used to justify conquering nations overseas. It’s a form of understanding identity that lives on in many people, Sellers said.

“It’s as old as western society itself,” he said.

Race is an important issue in a county that is very segregated depending on the town and school district. An image created by the nonprofit and compiled with information from the New York State Department of Education shows a district such as Port Jefferson is made up of 80 percent white students, while in the Brentwood school district 79 percent of students are Latino and 12 percent are black.

Panelists argued that racism exists and is perpetuated through local policy. Abena Asare,
assistant professor of Modern African Affairs and History said that racism currently exists in the segregated schools, in lack of public transportation, zoning laws and other land-use policies created by local governments.

“Many of the policies on our island that insulate and produce structural racism are based on a false narrative on what Long Island was, who it is was for, and the fear of where it is going,” Asare said. “Creating new futures requires that we expose the version of the past that justifies or separates an unequal status quo.”

Crystal Fleming, an associate professor of sociology at Stony Brook, spoke about how historically the idea of white supremacy is ingrained in America’s social consciousness, that lingering ideas of one race’s entitlement to security and citizenship over other races have helped perpetuate racist ideas and policy.

“When we talk about systemic racism, it’s not black supremacy, it’s not Native American supremacy, it’s not Asian supremacy, it’s white supremacy,” Fleming said. “We need to be brave and talk frankly about these matters.”

Miriam Sarwana, a graduate student in psychology at Stony Brook, said after the civil rights movement of the 1960s racism did not simply die, but it became subtle, only used in the safety of the home. This is compounded by the lack of interaction between races on a daily basis.

“These biases are influenced by the social, societal and cultural [elements] in our lives, and can be influenced both directly and indirectly,” Sarwana said. “A white adult has little or no interaction with African-Americans, and then starting childhood this person may be exposed to negative images of African-Americans.”

The panelists said that the extreme segregation in school districts has resulted in an even greater disparity of resources and attention for nonwhite races. The issue, Asare said, after the forum, was that the 125 public school districts on Long Island have remained insular, leading to communities becoming disparate and inclusive. She said the best way to deal with this is to consolidate school districts, even along town lines, which could lead to bigger savings for school districts, more resources to less-served districts and allow for better cross-pollination of races between schools.

“The fact that those types of discussions are not normally occurring here speaks to a larger issue, that segregation works for a lot of people around Long Island,” Asare said.

The final Erase Racism forum in this series will be held Dec. 10 at the Radisson Hotel in Hauppauge at 6 p.m. Visit www.eraseracismny.org for more information or to register for the event.

Town of Smithtown officials and St. James veterans give their respects at the rededication of the Vietnam War memorial Nov. 21. Photo by Sara-Megan Walsh

On Thanksgiving eve, as many prepared for the holiday fest, Town of Smithtown officials
and St. James community members came together to give thanks to a set of veterans who often feel forgotten.

Smithtown Supervisor Ed Wehrheim (R) led the rededication and blessing of the Vietnam War memorial at St. James train station Nov. 21. The town’s parks department employees have recently completed cleaning up, adding features to and landscaping the Sherwood Brothers monument after its condition was brought up by Councilman Tom Lohmann (R).

Ed Springer, commander of American Legion Sherwood Brothers Post 1244 of St. James, speaks at the Nov. 21 ceremony. Photo by Sara-Megan Walsh

“We’re very appreciative for what Tom and the town did for us here, it will be remembered for a long time to come,” said Ed Springer, commander of the American Legion Sherwood Brothers Post 1152 in St. James.

The supervisor said the town engaged in conversation with the Long Island Rail Road over making improvements at the railroad station, like improving the landscaping and painting the trestles and underpasses as part of the Lake Avenue revitalization efforts. During a site visit, Lohmann said he rediscovered the overgrown monument.

“When I started talking to people about the memorial, they asked, ‘What memorial are you talking about?’” the councilman said. “That’s the point. You couldn’t see it. It was overgrown and in complete disrepair.”

When the town sent its park employees to begin taking out overgrown shrubs, Lohmann said he received a call from MTA police officers who showed up and threatened to arrest the men for allegedly for ripping apart the memorial. After a phone call, and the two public agencies reached an agreement moving forward.

The St. James Vietnam War memorial has been cleaned up and the landscaping redone, water and electrical lines run to ensure future maintenance, and a light installed to illuminate the American flag. The monument was first dedicated in memory of the two St. James Sherwood brothers, William and George, who died three weeks apart in France while serving in World War I.

The newly refurbished and cleaned up Vietnam War memorial at St. James LIRR train station. Photo by Sara-Megan Walsh

“I’m sure everyone here has had someone in the military who has served our country,” Sal Riccobono, assistant vice commander of Sgt. John W. Cooke Post 395 of St. James. “We want you to remember all of them and appreciate all they did for us that brought us to this point today.”

Both Springer and Riccobono said that the membership of their veterans organizations are rapidly dwindling, and they both hope to bring newer and younger service members into the fold. Springer said the Sherwood Brothers post has seen 12 of its World War II veterans die in the past year.

“When I tell you from the bottom of my heart, the way to keep their stories alive is to constantly talk about them,” Richard Kitson, local chapter president of the Vietnam Veterans of America. “If you are in that post, what a tribute to the Sherwood brothers this is that you keep their memories alive.”

A former U.S. Marine, Kitson said both his brother, John, and a best friend died serving in Vietnam. He found comfort in the St. James rededication ceremony.

“This is really touching. It’s very, very touching — it’s touched my heart,” he said, wiping a tear from his eye.”

Suffolk County District Attorney Tim Sini announces charges related to illegal dumping scheme. Photo from DA's office

Long Island homeowners who thought they were getting free, clean fill for their properties off Craigslist may have learned if the offer seems too good to be true, that’s because it was.

Suffolk County District Attorney Tim Sini (D) announced a 130-charge indictment Nov. 26 against 22 individuals and nine corporations who allegedly cooperated in a massive conspiracy to illegally dispose of solid waste in 24 locations spanning Suffolk and Nassau counties.

“What we’re dealing with here is an epidemic of illegal dumping in Suffolk County,” Sini said. “It’s gone on far too long, and our message is very clear: We will not tolerate this criminal conduct in our county. We will do whatever it takes to uncover illegal dumping.”

Smithtown resident Anthony Grazio acted as “dirt broker” in the island-wide dumping scheme. Photo from DA’s office

The conspiracy was allegedly led by Smithtown resident Anthony Grazio, 53, also known as “Rock,” who acted as a dirt broker by arranging for locations where trucking companies could illegally dispose of their solid waste and construction debris, according to Suffolk prosecutors.

An investigation dubbed Operation Pay Dirt, which involved the district attorney’s office, New York State Department of Environmental Conservation and Suffolk County Police Department, launched in February 2018 revealed Grazio was allegedly posting ads on Craigslist and other websites offering “free, clean fill — free delivery,” in addition to stating it was “certified and approved for residential and commercial use.” Grazio allegedly worked with Vito Fragola, 44, of Commack, to also post a sign on a tree outside a home on Wilson Boulevard in Central Islip to advertise “free clean fill,” in February 2018, according to court documents.

When a Long Island homeowner or business expressed interest in fill for landscaping projects, Grazio and owners or operators of nine different trucking companies would discuss the potential of the site and the amount of material that could be dumped there from New York City construction and demolition sites, according to the district attorney.

“The bigger the property, the better for the defendants as this scam was all about making money,” Sini said. “When an ideal property was found, Grazio could often be heard directing his co-conspirators to ‘hit it hard.’ Grazio approved material being dumped at residential locations even when notified that the material smelled like diesel fuel or had pieces of wood, asphalt, concrete, large boulders or even glass contained in the material.”

Investigators claimed after dumping contaminated fill on a property, Grazio and his co-conspirators allegedly went as far as to provide the homeowners with false laboratory reports stating the material was clean or cover it with a layer of topsoil to ensure grass could grow. In other cases, the truck owners and operators were allegedly caught having phone discussions on how to cover up the hazardous materials being moved about to prevent detection of the illegal dumping.

Out of the 24 locations identified to be impacted by the scheme, the district attorney’s office said 19 were residential properties, four commercial and one school in Roslyn Heights.

“They did this to make money, they did this to save on operating costs, and they did it at the expense of the health of our residents,” Sini said.

Testing performed by the DEC found fill at six locations was positive for acutely hazardous substances, mainly pesticides, with 17 sites containing hazardous substances under the state’s Environmental Conservation Law. These hazardous substances included arsenic, lead, copper, nickel, mercury and other metals.

Map of all illegal dumping sites. Photo from DA’s office

“Illegal solid waste dumping poses a serious threat to New York’s environment and burdens communities across Long Island,” said DEC Commissioner Basil Seggos.

Among North Shore individuals charged alongside Grazio and Fragola for being involved in this alleged scheme were: Alix Aparaicio Gomez, 50, of Huntington; Anthony Grazio Jr., 19, of Smithtown; Michael Heinrichs, 48, of Port Jefferson Station; Robert Hirsch, 43, of Commack; Joseph Lamberta, 68, of Hauppauge; Steven Nunez Genao, 24, of Port Jefferson Station; Milan Parik, 46, of Centereach; James Perruzza, 18, of Northport; Frank Rotondo Jr., 47, of Miller Place; Thomas St. Clair, 51, of St. James; and Robert Walter, 31, of Nesconset.

The top count on the indictment is second-degree criminal mischief, which is a Class D felony, and, if found guilty, carries a maximum sentence of up to seven years in prison.

By Heidi Sutton

The holiday season has arrived at the Smithtown Center for the Performing Arts, and while adults can enjoy a performance of “White Christmas,” younger audiences can go see Ken Ludwig’s “Twas the Night Before Christmas.” The adorable show runs through Dec. 30.

Directed by Christine Boehm, the play opens on a snowy Christmas Eve with Uncle Brierly (Tom Catt) reading Clement C. Moore’s classic poem, “Twas the Night Before Christmas” to the audience. He gets as far as, “Not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse” only to be interrupted by Amos the mouse (Jae Hughes) who is in fact stirring, cookie dough that is, to make cookies for Santa in hopes that he’ll show up this year.

Turns out that Amos and his best human friend Emily (Lorelai Mucciolo) were left off the Naughty or Nice list last year by Santa and didn’t receive any presents.

As they lament over their misfortune, an elf named Calliope (Lisa Naso) arrives to investigate. Seems a lot of children were left off the list last year, and Calliope enlists the help of Emily and Amos to prevent this from happening again. With only a few hours left until Christmas Day, the three set off on an airplane to the North Pole on a quest to find this year’s Naughty and Nice list and to save Christmas. When they arrive at Santa’s workshop, they discover that a former elf, Sir Guy of Gisbourne (Catt), with the help of his sidekick Mulch (Anthony Panarello), sold the children’s Christmas list to retailers last year and plans to do it again this year. Can they be stopped in time?

Hilarity ensues with a chase scene through the audience, a surprise appearance from Amos’ brother (the incredible Hughes in a dual role), an exciting sword fight, a special visit by Santa and even a little snow in the theater at the end with the underlying message to make life an adventure.

With a running time of approximately one hour with a 15-minute intermission, this action-packed family-friendly show is the perfect first introduction to live theater. Booster seats are available. Meet the cast in the lobby after the show for a holiday photo.

The Smithtown Center for the Performing Arts, 2 East Main St., Smithtown will present Ken Ludwig’s “Twas the Night Before Christmas” through Dec. 30 followed by Disney’s “Aladdin Jr.” from Jan. 12 to Feb. 24. All seats are $15. For more information or to order, call 631-724-3700 or visit www.smithtownpac.org

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