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Suffolk County District Attorney Tim Sini

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.

On Sept. 27, Suffolk County District Attorney Tim Sini (D) announced the conviction of a 33-year-old Centereach woman for attempting to murder her newborn son by smothering him with a pillow.

Soily Aparacio Santos was convicted for attempted murder for trying to smother her newborn child last year. Photo from the Suffolk County District Attorney’s Office

“It’s incomprehensible to imagine a mother trying to murder her newborn baby just minutes after he was born, but that is exactly what this defendant did,” Sini said. “It’s a miracle that the baby survived and now, thanks to the hard work of Assistant District Attorneys Shauna Kerr and Sarah Skahill, justice was served on behalf of this innocent victim.”

Soily Aparicio Santos was found guilty by a jury Sept. 26 of attempted murder in the second degree, attempted assault in the first degree, attempted assault in the second degree and endangering the welfare of a child.

Last year, Santos attempted to smother her newborn son immediately after giving birth to him at her home in Centereach. A family member who was present in the residence saw the baby with a pillow over his head and called the police. The child was transported by the Centereach Fire Department to Stony Brook University Hospital for evaluation. He did not sustain any serious injuries and is currently in foster care.

Santos faces a maximum sentence of up to 25 years in prison. She is expected to be sentenced Nov. 1.

District Attorney Tim Sini (D). File photo by Victoria Espinoza

By Fr. Francis Pizzarelli

Father Frank Pizzarelli

Recently District Attorney Tim Sini (D) announced a new initiative to combat the drug epidemic ravaging Suffolk County. The Comprehensive Addiction Recovery and Education Program, or CARE Program, allows nonviolent defendants with substance abuse disorders a full dismissal of chargers if the person successfully completes a 90-day treatment program. It was designed by prosecutors, defense attorneys and court officials.

This initiative is definitely a positive step in the right direction. As someone who has provided outpatient and residential treatment for addictions for more than 25 years, I am deeply concerned that this effort lacks substance and appropriate resources for those struggling with substance abuse and mental health issues.

Many of our judges have already been open to alternative sentencing for nonviolent drug offenders. 

There are some important facts that seem to always get buried when this important issue is raised. These are facts that the public should know. 

First and foremost, we do not have nearly enough detox and/or residential treatment beds.

And insurance no longer covers a full 28-day stay in a residential treatment program. At best, most will only cover 7 to 11 days. That is unconscionable. More tragically, many insurance companies tell those battling chronic addiction “try outpatient treatment first — fail at this then we will pay for residential care.”

A growing number of young men and women are trying outpatient treatment first and are failing in record numbers. They are dying! What is very disturbing is that few to no voices are crying out about this horrific human atrocity.

Evidence-based treatment grounded in competent research states that the chronic opioid and heroin addict needs long-term residential treatment if long-term recovery is the hope for outcome.

Presently in Suffolk County we have two programs that provide more than three months of care. Only one program is not insurance based.

So the CARE initiative is a great step forward. Let’s not set those struggling with addictions within the criminal justice system up for failure because we lack the comprehensive and competent resources to make the CARE Program an effective tool on one’s road to recovery and wellness.

Unfortunately, outpatient programs have very limited success with chronic drug abusers. Do some enter and sustain health recovery? Yes, but a growing number fail.

As one local religious leader, I have presided at way too many funerals for young people who have died senselessly around addiction. In the past three weeks, I have had three young adults with tremendous potential lose their lives because of overdosing on heroin. I have talked with many of my colleagues in religion who are burying a record number of young people within their own faith traditions. 

Actions speak louder than words. The violence of our silence is contributing to this national health crisis. Change and transformation is possible. I live among these miracles everyday.

Fr. Pizzarelli, SMM, LCSW-R, ACSW, DCSW, is the director of Hope House Ministries in Port Jefferson.

During an 18-year span, an East Setauket financial adviser allegedly scammed 17 people out of more than $13 million, according to a federal indictment.

The United States Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of New York announced Steven Pagartanis faces nine federal charges.

Steven Pagartanis will face federal charges in addition to county charges for allegedly running a Ponzi scheme in East Setauket. Photo from Suffolk County District Attorney’s Office

The 58-year-old owner of Omega Planning Associates, was arrested and arraigned in federal court in Central Islip July 25 and was charged with security fraud, mail and wire fraud conspiracies, as well as money laundering for orchestrating a Ponzi scheme, according to a press release from the EDNY office.

The government alleged Pagartanis solicited individuals to invest in variable annuities, mutual funds and similar investments, according to court documents. At least 17 individuals between January 2000 and March 2018 invested more than $13 million collectively with the defendant. The victims believed the money was for real estate investments, including a Canadian land development company, referred to as Company 1 in court documents. The individuals sustained a loss of more than $8 million. The investors are listed as Jane and John Does in the court documents and live in various areas including Long Island, Illinois, California and Florida.

“Rather than investing in Company 1 and other investments as promised to the victims, the defendant Steven Pagartanis, used the investment capital to repay prior investors and for his own personal benefit,” the release reads. “For example, Pagartanis used the victims’ investment capital to pay for his personal and family expenses, and to purchase luxury items such as clothing, jewelry, airline tickets, massages and cigars.”

The defendant used interstate communications including telephone calls and emails to induce the victims to invest and to prevent them from withdrawing their investments, according to court documents.

“As alleged, Pagartanis conned vulnerable members of the community who had entrusted him with their hard-earned savings,” said Richard Donoghue, U. S. attorney, in a statement. “Protecting the elderly and the community at large from predators like the defendant is a priority of this office and the Department of Justice and with our law enforcement partners we will continue to pursue that mission.”

“As alleged, Pagartanis conned vulnerable members of the community who had entrusted him with their hard-earned savings.”

— Richard Donoghue

Pagartanis was previously arrested May 30 for allegedly stealing millions from elderly victims in a Ponzi scheme, according to a statement from the Suffolk County District Attorney’s office. He was arraigned in Suffolk County District Court in Central Islip on two counts of first-degree grand larceny, a B felony, and two counts of second-degree grand larceny, a C felony. According to the Suffolk County district attorney’s office, Pagartanis allegedly stole approximately $7.5 million from his victims in the county case.

A family member of one of the victims brought the case to the attention of the district attorney’s office. The four victims included in the felony complaints, who range in age from 64 to 83 years old, began investing in the scheme in 2013, according to the statement from Sini’s office.

Pursuant to a concurrent investigation by the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority, Inc., Pagartanis was barred from acting as a securities broker April 10, according to FINRA’s website, brokercheck.finra.org. The site lists customer disputes as well as a judgment/lien against the former broker. In addition to the criminal charges, a civil lawsuit was filed against Pagartanis May 30 by the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission, according to Sini’s office.

Attorney Kevin Keating of Garden City is representing Pagartanis. The defendant pleaded not guilty. Keating did not respond to a request for comment.

An East Setauket resident was arrested May 30 for allegedly stealing millions from elderly victims in a Ponzi scheme, according to a statement from the Suffolk County District Attorney’s office.

Steven Pagartanis, 58, was arraigned in Suffolk County District Court in Central Islip on two counts of first-degree grand larceny, a B felony, and two counts of second-degree grand larceny, a C felony. According to the district attorney’s office, Pagartanis allegedly stole approximately $7.5 million from his victims. Pagartanis was released following the arraignment on supervised release with GPS monitoring.

Steven Pagartanis allegedly stole approximately $7.5 million from elderly victims. Photo from Suffolk County District Attorney’s Office

“The defendant described to victims a great investment they could make by trusting him with their hard-earned money,” District Attorney Tim Sini said. “In some cases, victims gave the defendant their life savings. The defendant then used those monies to pay off earlier investors in his scheme and to fund his personal lifestyle.”

Pagartanis worked as a financial planner and is the owner of Omega Planning Associates, a financial planning business located at 100 North Country Road in East Setauket. He allegedly told victims he was investing their money in Genesis Land Development Corp., a building and land development company based in Calgary, Canada, according to Sini’s office.

Pagartanis then allegedly deposited the funds into an account called “Genesis Holding” and used the money to pay back prior investors in the scheme. The defendant also allegedly used some of the money on personal expenses, including retail purchases and dining.

“We’ve identified well over a dozen victims and we believe there are more victims out there,” Sini said.

The case was brought to the attention of the district attorney’s office by a family member of one of the victims. The four victims included in the felony complaints, who range in age from 64 to 83 years old, began investing in the scheme in 2013, according to the statement.

Pursuant to a concurrent investigation by the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority, Inc., Pagartanis was barred from acting as a securities broker April 10, according to FINRA’s website, brokercheck.finra.org. The website lists customer disputes as well as a judgement/lien.

In addition to the criminal charges, a civil lawsuit was filed against Pagartanis May 30 by the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission, according to Sini’s office.

If convicted, Pagartanis faces a maximum sentence of eight to 25 years in prison on each count of first-degree grand larceny and a maximum sentence of five to 15 years in prison on each count of second-degree grand larceny. Pagartanis is due back in court July 24.

An attempt to reach Pagartanis was unsuccessful. When calling his office, a message played stating the number is not set up to receive messages. The company’s website www.omegaplanning.com is currently offline.

The district attorney’s office is asking if anyone invested money with Pagartanis, or has any information about the defendant, to call 631-853-5602.

Suffolk County District Attorney Tim Sini is read the oath of office by Sen. Chuck Schumer during Sini's inauguration Jan. 2. Photo by Alex Petroski

Though calendars and thermometers will provide unmistakable evidence that spring is still several months away, new hope sprung eternal in Suffolk County Jan. 2.

Tim Sini (D) was officially sworn in by U.S. Sen. Leader Chuck Schumer (D-New York), the Senate minority leader, to begin his tenure as Suffolk County’s District Attorney, a position Sini captured with a 26-point landslide Election Day victory over his Republican opponent Ray Perini. Sini officially assumed the vacated position Tuesday, left open by his retired and federally indicted predecessor Tom Spota (D), during an inauguration ceremony at the Brentwood campus of Suffolk County Community College in front of town and county elected officials and friends and family of the new DA.

Suffolk County District Attorney Tim Sini shakes hands with Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone after he was sworn in Jan. 2. by Sen. Chuck Schumer, center. Photo by Alex Petroski

Sini campaigned on restoring public faith to a position and office now synonymous with controversy and accusations. Speakers including County Executive Steve Bellone (D), former U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York David Kelley and co-chairman of Sini’s campaign and transition team, and the newly inaugurated DA himself each referred to his responsibility in restoring that faith as a primary objective during his time on the job.

“The prosecutor’s mission at its core is not to seek convictions, but to seek justice,” Bellone said. “It is like many things that this person of deep faith believes to his core. Unfortunately in Suffolk County for too many years and in too many instances this truth has been overshadowed by self-dealing and chicanery. I can tell you with certainty, with as much certainty as one individual can hold, that this chain is broken today — that a new era of integrity in the Suffolk County District Attorney’s office has begun.”

Though their time in the Eastern District of New York didn’t overlap, Kelley served at the head of the U.S. Attorney’s office, where Sini was an assistant U.S. Attorney before returning to Suffolk, where Bellone would eventually appoint him Police Commissioner. During his remarks, Kelley cited a quote from a 1935 Supreme Court decision in which members of the court took a prosecutor to task for his conduct, indicating the quote was particularly relevant for Suffolk County and should remind Sini of his duties ahead.

Suffolk County District Attorney speaks about moving the office forward into the future during his inauguration ceremony Jan. 2. Photo by Alex Petroski

“The prosecutor is the representative not of an ordinary party to a controversy, but of a sovereignty whose obligation to govern impartially is as compelling as its obligation to govern at all, and whose interest, therefore, in a criminal prosecution, is not that it shall win a case, but that justice shall be done,” Kelley recited from the court’s findings. “As such, he is in a peculiar and very definite sense the servant of the law, the two-fold aim of which is that guilt shall not escape or innocence suffer. He may prosecute with earnestness and vigor — indeed, he should do so. But, while he may strike hard blows, he is not at liberty to strike foul ones.”

The theme of Sini’s message during the ceremony was to look forward.

“Today marks the beginning — marks the moment that together, we usher in a new era of criminal justice in Suffolk County, one that ensures public safety, champions the law and promotes faith and trust in our law enforcement agencies,” he said. “Each and every day the public will know that the Suffolk County District Attorney’s office is doing the right thing.”

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