Suffolk County District Attorney Timothy D. Sini, the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (“NYSDEC”), Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone and the Suffolk County Police Department (“SCPD”) today announced the commencement of cleanup and remediation efforts at the illegal dumping sites identified during “Operation Pay Dirt,” an investigation conducted by the Suffolk County District Attorney’s Office, NYSDEC and SCPD that resulted in the largest environmental dumping case in New York State history.
“Back in November of 2018 when we announced the historic indictment of 40 defendants as a result of an investigation we dubbed ‘Operation Pay Dirt,’ we made a promise to the victims that not only would we hold the co-conspirators accountable for their crimes, but we would also make sure that they paid for all of the cleanup costs,” District Attorney Sini said. “That burden should not fall on the homeowners who are victimized by this type of scheme, and thanks to the hard work of my Office and our partners, we were able to seize the assets of the criminal defendants and use those assets to fund the remediation plan. At the end of the day, environmental dumping is a crime driven by greed, and we want this case to send a clear message to anyone considering committing these crimes on Long Island that it does not pay in the long run. Make no mistake about it; my Office and our partners in the DEC, the Suffolk County Police Department and many other agencies will make sure that it no longer pays to commit environmental crimes on Long Island.”
“New York State has no tolerance for the illegal disposal of solid waste and helped launch a region-wide initiative to investigate and prosecute offenders who were damaging communities in Suffolk and other areas of the state with C&D debris and contaminated fill,” NYSDEC Commissioner Basil Seggos said. “Now as we move to the next phase to help communities reclaim these properties in partnership with Suffolk County, District Attorney Sini, and other partners, DEC looks forward to providing comprehensive oversight of the cleanups for the benefit of public health and the environment.”
“Suffolk County has been at the forefront of the war on illegal dumping and the days of individuals being able to get away with this kind of criminal activity are over,” said Suffolk County Executive Bellone. “As we take the first step in cleaning up the mess these individuals left behind, our message is clear – Long Island is not your dumping ground, and anyone who engages in this type of activity will pay a harsh price.”
“It is only fitting that assets seized from the offenders be used to clean up the environmental disaster they created,” Suffolk County Police Commissioner Geraldine Hart said. “While Operation Pay Dirt reached a successful conclusion because we worked with our partner agencies to hold people and corporations accountable for environmental crimes, I would like to commend District Attorney Sini for obtaining more than one million dollars in restitution from the defendants to ensure remediation efforts will be completed.”
The “Operation Pay Dirt” investigation, which began in February 2018, resulted in two indictments charging 30 individuals and 10 corporations for conspiring to illegally dump solid waste at locations across Long Island. All 40 criminal cases have since reached dispositions, including nine that resulted in felony convictions and one defendant being sentenced to prison.
A civil forfeiture action was brought by the Suffolk County District Attorney’s Office against 12 individuals and 10 corporate entities as a result of the criminal conduct, resulting in the forfeiture of approximately $1.27 million. The forfeiture amount comprises proceeds of the crimes; trucks and other equipment used by the defendants as instrumentalities to engage in the criminal activity that were sold at auction by the SCPD; and real property owned by the defendants.
The funds will be used to pay remediation costs for the cleanup of 18 properties that were identified as sites of illegal dumping during the investigation. The NYSDEC conducted site visits at the properties and created remediation plans for each. Cleanup will be conducted by a private contractor and overseen by the Suffolk County Department of Public Works and the NYSDEC to ensure the material is disposed of properly. Following the remediation, a secondary private contractor will conduct end-point sampling at each property to certify that any hazardous or acutely hazardous substances have been removed.
“Operation Pay Dirt” was a months-long, multi-agency investigation that involved the use of court-authorized eavesdropping, electronic surveillance and physical surveillance. The investigation revealed a conspiracy to commit illegal dumping led by Anthony Grazio a/k/a “Rock,” 55, of Smithtown, who acted as a “dirt broker” by arranging for locations where trucking companies could illegally dispose of solid waste. Grazio posted advertisements on Craigslist for “clean fill” for landscaping projects and solicited homeowners over the phone and in person for locations to use for dumping.
The material that was illegally dumped came from recycling and transfer stations located in New York City and Long Island, including Queens-based Durante Bros Construction Corp. It was then transported and dumped at the sites by trucking companies including DJCI Enterprises, Inc.; IEV Trucking Corp.; Kris Trucking Corp.; Modern Leasing, Inc. doing business as Dumpmasters; New York Trucking and Carting Corporation; NYTAC Corp.; ClairCo Industries, Inc., doing business as St. Clair Trucking; and Starfire Industries, Inc., doing business as Platinum Aggregates, Inc.
The investigation revealed that Kris Trucking Corp. also took construction and demolition debris directly from construction sites in New York City and illegally dumped it at residential and commercial locations.
NYSDEC testing of the illegally-dumped solid waste found that several of the locations contained acutely hazardous substances or hazardous substances as defined in the New York State Codes’ Rules and Regulations. The acutely hazardous substances included aldrin, dieldrin and heptachlor, which are all pesticides. The hazardous substances included arsenic, beryllium, cadmium, cobalt, chromium, copper, lead, nickel, zinc and mercury, which are all metals.
In addition to the criminal indictment, a Special Grand Jury empaneled by District Attorney Sini in July 2018 also issued a comprehensive report on the commission and effects of illegal dumping and other environmental crimes on Long Island. The Special Grand Jury concluded that protecting the environment of Suffolk County from illegal dumping is of paramount importance in light of the fact that Suffolk County sits atop an aquifer, which is the sole source of drinking water for its residents. The report included recommendations on legislative and administrative action to effectively combat environmental crimes and provide avenues to pay for remediation and restitution to the victims of those crimes.
District Attorney Sini worked with state and local officials, including New York State Sen. Todd Kaminsky and New York State Assemblyman Steve Stern, to propose legislation based on the Special Grand Jury’s recommendations. On July 24th, the State Senate and Assembly passed bills that will create several new felonies under State law related to illegal dumping upon being signed into law.
“Operation Pay Dirt” was conducted by the Suffolk County District Attorney’s Office’s Special Investigative Counsel Christiana McSloy; Enhanced Prosecution Bureau Chief Nicholas Mauro and Assistant District Attorneys Adriana Noyola and Laura Sarowitz; and Finance & Asset Forfeiture Bureau Chief Craig Pavlik.