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Crime

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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County Executive Steve Bellone (D) and Port Jeff Mayor Margot Garant listen to SCPD Chief of Department Stuart Cameron on the new Real Time Crime Center. Photo from Kevin Wood

PJ first village to connect with Real Time Crime Center

Suffolk County Police will be keeping tabs on Port Jefferson village in a new way.

Village of Port Jefferson officials announced that it’s become the first village on Long Island to connect through videography with the Suffolk County’s new Real Time Crime Center. This allows the police to tap into the eight existing village security cameras positioned in places like the train station and the three-way intersection at West Broadway and Main Street.

Connections to the RTCC were made April 15 after piloting the program for a few months with one of the cameras in upper Port Jeff, according to village parking administrator Kevin Wood. He said most of the cameras help cover parking lots and high-traffic streets within the village.

“Having strategically placed high-definition cameras recording in public places 24/7 for the village to look back on for accidents or crime events is valuable,” Wood said in an email. “Having the SCPD also receiving these same video feeds in real time to their brand new RTCC adds an extra layer of security and response for the residents and visitors of Port Jefferson village. I certainly feel this is positive and a deterrent for negative activity.”

“It’s not because a crime is occurring, but they’re using more and more real time tools to help reduce crime.”

— Margot Garant

The RTCC was introduced in March this year and was funded with both county capital and grant funds. The county announced the finished crime center with the intent of cracking down on crime in the Island’s downtown locations. Earlier this month village officials were invited to the RTCC, located in Yaphank, to view the new system with County Executive Steve Bellone (D) and police Chief of Department Stuart Cameron.

Village Mayor Margot Garant said it would be especially effective in tracking shoplifting crimes in the village, with the cameras able to identify vehicle’s license plates or people as they move in front of village shops. She said the cameras have recently aided in catching a shoplifter who stole from The East End Shirt Company.

“Some people ask, ‘Why is there a police helicopter going around Port,” Garant said. “It’s not because a crime is occurring, but they’re using more and more real time tools to help reduce crime.”

The village also has access to these cameras, and the code enforcement bureau has access via a single screen in their offices.

Police would have the ability to control individual cameras, which she said act on swivels to cover more area. Whether or not this means more surveillance for village residents and visitors, Garant said police wouldn’t be looking at each camera every second of every day.

“We’re using these tools to keep crime out of here, not spy on people,” she said. “This is what has to be done.”

Gerald Cohen during a 2010 interview with TBR News Media. Image from video by TBR News Media

The former CEO of Lawrence Aviation in Port Jefferson, Gerald Cohen, has been ordered to pay $48 million in cleanup costs for the toxic underground plume caused by materials leached into the ground from the now-defunct airplane parts manufacturer.

The U.S. Attorney’s office announced the charges April 15 after a district court judge in Central Islip ruled Lawrence Aviation Industries, Inc, a former defense contractor that was based on Sheep Pasture Road, and its longtime owner and CEO, Gerald Cohen, were liable for environmental cleanup costs.

“This case and the significant monetary penalties imposed by the court should serve as a warning to would-be polluters, including individuals, that this office and the [U.S. Environmental Protection Agency] will use every tool at their disposal to protect Long Island’s groundwater and to ensure that those responsible for contamination will foot the bill for cleanup costs,” said Richard Donoghue, the U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of New York.

The U.S. Attorney’s office detailed Cohen’s wrongdoing based on the court’s 37-page memorandum. In the early 1980s, after the Suffolk County Department of Health issued a series of recommendations for LAI to come into compliance with various pollution control laws, LAI used a front-end loader to crush 55-gallon drums containing hazardous substances, among more than 1,600 of such drums identified on the property, resulting in a massive discharge of waste directly onto the ground. Samples taken from those drums revealed impermissibly high levels of trichloroethylene, among other pollutants. Nearly two decades later, in 1999, testing performed by the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation revealed contamination of groundwater and surface water at the site.

“This judgment provides for the reimbursement of money spent on cleanup work and imposes penalties that act as a deterrent.”

— Pete Lopez

In a statement to the U.S. Attorney’s office, the regional EPA administrator said he was pleased with the court’s decision.

“This judgment provides for the reimbursement of money spent on cleanup work and imposes penalties that act as a deterrent,” said EPA regional administrator Pete Lopez. “Our active engagement and work at this site will continue over the long term.”

Various creditors have asserted claims against LAI and Cohen properties based on their respective liens. Those claims remain pending before the court. The 126-acre property was named a Superfund site in 2000 and was expected to take 20 years to complete the cleanup.

The EPA’s cleanup of the site, now into its 19th year, has included a remedial investigation into the nature and scope of the contamination, various hazardous waste removal and stabilization activities, and the implementation and maintenance of two groundwater treatment systems designed to capture and treat contaminated groundwater, according to the U.S. Attorney’s office. The EPA’s activities at the LAI site have resulted in a decrease in the size of the groundwater TCE plume and the removal of more than 18,000 tons of soil contaminated with polychlorinated biphenyls, among other hazardous substances, including asbestos-containing materials.

In 2008, Cohen and LAI pleaded guilty to violating the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act, for storing hazardous wastes at the LAI facility without a permit issued by the EPA or New York State. Cohen was sentenced to a term of imprisonment of one year and a day, and supervised release of 36 months. He and LAI were ordered to pay restitution to the EPA of $105,816.

A photo Brian Newton. Photo from New York State Sex Offender Registry

An East Northport man and registered sex offender has been sentenced on transporting, trading and possessing child pornography.

In federal court in Central Islip, Brian Newton, 38, was sentenced to 19 years in prison by United States District Judge Joseph F. Bianco Feb. 27. This followed a guilty plea May 3, 2018, to the transportation of child pornography in interstate and foreign commerce. As part of his sentence, Newton must serve five years supervised release following his imprisonment, during which time he must remain registered as a sex offender and not have unsupervised contact with minors. 

Richard Donoghue, the U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of New York, and William F. Sweeney Jr., the assistant director in charge of the FBI New York Field Office announced the sentence.

“Newton, despite being a registered sex offender, again chose to victimize children by sharing images of their abuse with others online, conduct that is deserving of a substantial prison sentence and underscores a message of deterrence to others,” said Donoghue. “The protection of innocent children is a priority of utmost importance for this office and our law enforcement partners. We will continue to work tirelessly to ensure that those who victimize children will be arrested and prosecuted to the full extent of the law.”  

Newton, who at the time of the charged offense was on probation from a conviction in Suffolk County in 2014 for possession of child pornography, was allegedly caught trading child pornography including sadistic depictions of the sexual abuse of infants and toddlers, according to the U.S. attorney’s office. During the execution of a search warrant at his residence, police seized Newton’s large collection of child pornography, including hundreds of videos and thousands of images.  After his arrest, Newton admitted engaging in conversations with minors over internet chat platforms, as well as sending nude images of himself to minors and soliciting nude images from minors.    

“Child pornography is not an abstract crime. It is a direct by-product of the sexual abuse of innocent children — in this instance, including infants and toddlers,” Sweeney said. “And though he was already on probation for a prior child pornography conviction, Newton continued and even escalated his depraved actions, sharing child pornography while sexually soliciting minor children online.”

This prosecution is part of Project Safe Childhood, a nationwide initiative led by the Department of Justice to combat the epidemic of child sexual exploitation and abuse. Led by U.S. attorneys’ offices, Project Safe Childhood marshals federal, state and local resources to better locate, apprehend and prosecute individuals who exploit children via the internet, as well as to identify and rescue victims.

The government’s case is being handled by the U.S. Attorney’s Long Island Criminal Division. Assistant United States attorneys Lara T. Gatz and Michael R. Maffei were in charge of the prosecution. 

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Picture of man who allegedly stole from a Speedway in December 2018. Photo from SCPD

Suffolk County Crime Stoppers and Suffolk County Police 6th Precinct Crime Section officers are seeking the public’s help to identify and locate a man who allegedly stole merchandise from a Miller Place gas station in December, 2018.

A man allegedly stole approximately $600 worth of cigarettes from Speedway, located at 370 Route 25A, on three occasions between Dec. 5 and Dec. 7, 2018.

Suffolk County Crime Stoppers offers a cash reward of up to $5,000 for information that leads to an arrest. Anyone with information about these incidents can contact Suffolk County Crime Stoppers to submit an anonymous tip by calling 1-800-220-TIPS, texting “SCPD” and your message to “CRIMES” (274637) or by email at www.tipsubmit.com.

All calls, text messages and emails will be kept confidential.

U.S. Eastern District Court of New York. Photo from Facebook

A Huntington resident will be spending time in prison after admitting to racketeering while in charge of Long Island’s most infamous crime family.

John “Johnny Boy” Ambrosio, 75, the acting captain in the organized crime family La Cosa Nostra was sentenced Dec. 6 in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of New York to 51 months in jail for taking part in a racketeering conspiracy. He previously pled guilty in May.

Ambrosio was among the last of seven associates of La Cosa Nostra to be sentenced in connection for the racketeering conspiracy, which included acts of drug trafficking, loan sharking, gambling and obstruction of justice.

There should be no doubt that putting a stop to the criminal activities of La Cosa Nostra continues to be a priority of this office and our law enforcement partners,.”

— Richard Donoghue

“There should be no doubt that putting a stop to the criminal activities of La Cosa Nostra continues to be a priority of this office and our law enforcement partners,” Richard Donoghue, U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of New York, said.

Ambrosio and his co-conspirators —including Anthony Rodolico, 46, of Huntington — were arrested by federal law enforcement officials Dec. 12, 2017 after federal officers executed search warrants at various locations, including a storage facility in Nassau County, where they found gambling and loan sharking records, electronic gaming machines, narcotics and drug paraphernalia and numerous firearms, including two AR-15 rifles, a .38 caliber revolver and a sawed-off shotgun, according to the U.S. attorney’s office. Law enforcement officials also found letters addressed to Ambrosio from the Bonanno family boss Michael “The Nose” Mancuso and former Gambino family boss John Gotti.

“Organized crime continues to plague our communities with violence, coercion, and intimidation,” William Sweeney Jr, assistant director-in-charge of the FBI’s New York field office, said. “The mobsters grow richer while their victims live in fear as they struggle to make payments while dealing with daily threats.”

Prosecutors said they believe Ambrosio and his associates engaged in a racketeering conspiracy from January 2014 to December 2017. In entering his guilty plea, Ambrosio admitted to participating in the Gambino family’s activities by extorting a loan from one victim and supervising a gambling business that involved poker games, electronic gaming machines and sports betting, according to the U.S. attorney’s office.

Under the terms of his plea deal, he will forfeit $100,000, including $66,116 in cash that was seized from his Huntington home at the time of his arrest.

His associate Rodolico was also sentenced Nov. 5 to one year in prison.

A photo of Jose Borgos who allegedly left dogs out in freezing temperatures. Photo from SCPD

More than 20 dogs were left out in the cold in Rocky Point until a local police officer saw them and took action.

Jose Borgos, a 52-year-old Rocky Point resident, allegedly left 21 Rottweilers out in freezing temperatures Nov. 22 at his house on Broadway. Seventh Precinct Officer Karen Grenia was on patrol when she heard dogs barking at about 10 a.m., according to a Suffolk County Police Department press release. The officer discovered the dogs in Borgos’ backyard, nine of which were found in travel crates in a shed.

Borgos, who identified to police as a dog breeder, was charged with 21 counts of violating the New York State Agriculture and Markets Law pertaining to appropriate shelter for dogs left outdoors, which requires dog owners to provide appropriate shelter to dogs existing out in inclement or harmful weather. He was also charged with 21 counts of violating Suffolk County code on outdoor restraint of animals, which prohibits dogs from being tethered outside when the temperature is below freezing.

Information on Borgos’ attorney has not yet been made available, and he was scheduled for arraignment at a later date.

The Town of Brookhaven Animal Control will determine the placement of the dogs, the police statement said.

President of Strong Island Rescue Frankie Floridia, the Pit Bull Chocolate and SCSPCA Detective Jennifer Pape at the Animal Medical Hospital of Centereach. Photo by Kyle Barr

A dog who was maimed after a knife attack in Brentwood has found safety with a Centereach animal hospital and a North Shore-based animal rescuer.

At about 5:30 a.m. Nov. 20, Suffolk County police responded to a domestic dispute in Brentwood, according to a release put out by SCPD. Malik Fields, 25, was allegedly involved in a dispute with his girlfriend during which police said he stabbed two of the family’s six dogs. Detective Jennifer Pape of the Suffolk County Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals was also brought onto the scene by SCPD when it was discovered one pit bull named Storm had been stabbed and was bleeding profusely, according to Pape. Fields’ family brought Storm to a West Islip animal hospital where he was euthanized.

“Stabbing cases are rare, but in a year we investigate about 3,000 animal cruelty complaints,” Pape said. “It’s heart wrenching — it’s why I do what I do. They’re innocent, it’s why we need to protect them.”

Several hours after the initial disturbance, after authorities had already left, Fields’ family discovered another pit bull named Chocolate had also been stabbed, according to Pape. The family called Frankie Floridia, president of Sound Beach-based Strong Island Animal Rescue League, seeing if he could help take the dog to a veterinarian. Floridia called Pape, who rushed back to the scene. Soon after, the family brought the dog to the Animal Medical Hospital of Centereach at about 1:45 p.m. where Chocolate immediately went into surgery.

“I knew one dog had passed away and so we had to go fast to make sure everything was OK with the [other] dog, that was my main concern,” Floridia said.

Chocolate received a 12 inch laceration across his left shoulder. Photo by Kyle Barr

Veterinarian Dr. Charles Greco said the dog had a 12-inch laceration deep along his shoulder that had cut into his left-side deltoid muscle. After being sedated, Chocolate was out of surgery after approximately 30 minutes. The veterinarian said he performed the surgery pro bono, yet this wasn’t the worst case he’s seen in his career.

“I had one case years ago where a dog was stabbed 40 times,” Greco said. “This dog had nothing to do with this [dispute], he just happened to be there.”

Chocolate is now in stable condition and is in the care of Floridia, who said he had been told by the family the dogs did not instigate or intimidate Fields. Despite the harm inflicted upon the young pit bull, Chocolate is still friendly and calm among strangers, willing to sniff their pants legs and walk around freely.

Fields was charged with two counts of aggravated cruelty to animals, according to the SCPD. He was arraigned Nov. 27, though Field’s lawyer could not be reached for comment. An order of protection was issued for the dogs by the Suffolk County District Attorney’s Office, which prevents Fields from interacting with the four other dogs, who were uninjured at the alleged incident and are still living with the family at the Brentwood house. In the meantime, Floridia did not want to give details on his plans for the dog, but he said he will work to make sure Chocolate goes to a caring home.

“We have good plans for him,” he said. “I’m going to do what’s best for the dog.”

Suffolk County police car. File photo

Suffolk County Police 2nd Squad detectives are investigating the sexual assault of a female teenager that occurred in Huntington earlier this week.

The 16-year-old girl was walking with a friend on Prospect Street, roughly 100 feet south of Main Street, at approximately 1:15 a.m. Nov. 11 when she was allegedly sexually assaulted by a man, police said.

Police said the man was described as Hispanic, approximately 20 to 25 years old, with short hair on the sides and long hair on top. The man, who has acne and a scar on his forehead, was wearing dark-colored shorts, a light-colored hooded sweatshirt and white sneakers. He fled on foot toward Main Street.

The  teen was transported to a local hospital for treatment, according to police.

Detectives are asking anyone with information on this incident to call the 2nd Squad at 631-854-8252 or anonymously to Crime Stoppers at 1-800-220-TIPS. All calls will be kept confidential.

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Blighted buildings and empty storefronts in upper Port Jefferson could soon be addressed through various grants. File photo by Kevin Redding

“Time for a bulldozer.” “What happened to this community?” “Something needs to be done up there.”

As eyebrow-raising stories in upper Port Jefferson — the area on and around Main Street between North Country Road and the train tracks — and Port Jefferson Station keep coming, so too does reaction, available in abundance at community meetings and on social media pages geared toward the Port Jeff area. If these reactions were a person’s only window into the state of an increasingly crime, addiction and poverty-stricken area, an element could surely be lost: the human element.

“You keep putting Band-Aids on bullet holes,” said Darryl Wood, 60, a Mastic Beach resident and employee at Echo Arms Adult Home, a residential facility on Route 112 south of the train tracks that houses adults with disabilities and provides shelter for low-income individuals, within the area designated for revitalization by Town of Brookhaven.

Wood was referring metaphorically and broadly to government’s approach to improving communities showing many of the symptoms characteristic of Echo Arms’ backyard, though his analogy had a tinge of reality. On July 22, a 27-year-old man from Selden was shot to death inside a billiards hall in upper Port. About a week prior, a man was stabbed at a bar just north of the tracks following an altercation. Wood hadn’t heard of the revitalization plans presented by the town July 24.

“They need help — they need someone who cares.”

— Darryl Wood

“They need help — they need someone who cares,” Wood said July 27 on a hot afternoon as he enjoyed his lunch break on a bench near the Port Jeff Station entrance to the Greenway Trail. He shared that he had been homeless previously, addicted to crack and panhandling to survive in Manhattan.

“I thought I would die a crackhead,” he said, adding he has been clean for 12 years, and working at Echo Arms for three. “I owe, because I’ve taken so much.”

Perception has become reality for those who don’t spend much time in upper Port, though personal interactions can serve as a reminder — people live in this community characterized at times only as a hot spot for drug use and violence.

“There’s always a lot going on in Port Jeff Station,” said a woman, who looked to be in her 60s, named Anna Maria, sitting on a bench adjacent to the train station July 27 while she waited for the S60 Suffolk County bus to arrive when asked if she’d heard about some of the recent events in her community.

She pushed a walker to help her reach the bench, coming north from around Maple Avenue and carrying a reusable shopping bag. A brief conversation revealed she spent time teaching American culture in Beijing, China, about 30 years ago, and carried a printed photo with her to prove it. She concluded the conversation saying, “God bless you,” as she boarded her bus.

“You’re doing better than me, I’m shot, the heat and humidity is killing me,” another man likely in his 50s waiting on the same bench for a bus downtown responded to the simple conversation starter “How ya doin’?”

He counted the change in his pocket as he spoke, wearing a gray baseball hat, dirty white T-shirt and gray sweatpants.

“Can you tell which bus is coming, I don’t have my glasses today,” he asked peering south down Route 112. “Be careful kid,” were his departing words.

Later a man who appeared to be homeless with a messy, full head of gray hair and out-of-season clothing sits down on the bench. He wandered over from the direction of Pax Christi Hospitality Center, a homeless shelter on Oakland Avenue. He stayed on the bench for about 20 minutes, halfway between seated and hunched, with his hand on his head and covering his face. Eventually, he stood up slowly, gathering a garbage bag in one hand and what appeared to be a bundled towel or blanket under the other arm. Without checking traffic, he hobbled across Main Street, stopping cars in both directions and turned the corner, disappearing from view.

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