After more than three years of scrutiny by various city agencies, the illegal dumping of thousands of cubic yards of debris at the College Point Sports Complex has been charged to three men and their corporations by the Queens District Attorney’s Office.
At a press conference on Monday, Queens District Attorney Richard Brown announced the defendants as Francesco Casalino, 42, of Malverne, Long Island and his brothers, Anthony, 36, of 90-03 157th Avenue, Howard Beach, and Joseph, 52, of 153-28 80th Street, Howard Beach.
The corporations are all owned and operated by the Casalino brothers, allegedly used in committing the crimes. They are Casalino Interior Demolition Corp., 66-00 Long Island Expressway, Maspeth; Citiwide Recycling Corp., of Brooklyn and Astro Trucking, also located at the Maspeth address.
Elated over the arrests and indictments is Tony Avella, former president of the College Point Sports Association, which ran the sports complex.
“They should throw the book at them,” he said. “This is a long time coming and I am pleased they have moved to find the people who did this.”
The city closed down the complex in 1997, saying that the company hired to handle fixing up the fields, Enviro-Fill, had allowed outside contractors to bring in illegal fill to level the site.
Although Enviro-Fill went out of business following the closing of the fields, and never paid a promised $1 million to remove the fill, the D.A.’s Office said it is still investigating Enviro-Fill as well as other contractors.
Also at the press conference were Edward Kuriansky, commissioner of investigation for the city; Joe Miele Sr., commissioner of the Department of Environmental Protection; Kevin Farrell, Sanitation commissioner, and Raymond Casey, chairman of the city Trade Waste Commission.
The three indicted men and their corporations have been charged with illegally dumping more than 36,700 cubic yards of demolition debris.
“This is a classic tale of selfishness and greed perpetrated on the residents of College Point and their children in total disregard of their safety and in violation of environmental law,” Brown said.
He said that in order to save $5 a cubic yard, the defendants dumped metal, glass, sheet rock, wire, plumbing fixtures and other hazardous materials at the College Point site.
“They knew the site was not only not licensed to receive those materials but more significantly, at a site on which youngsters and others would likely be injured as a result and that they went to great lengths to conceal their activities by filing false tracking reports with the city Department of Sanitation and environmental authorities,” Brown added.
Avella, whose sports association lost 400 youngsters because of lack of playing fields after the complex was closed, said the dumping was “terrible for kids” and something the group has been “fighting to recover from for years.”
Commissioner Kuriansky said these defendants had not only polluted the land for profit and left the city with $10 million in cleanup costs but that they “turned a field of dreams into a child’s nightmare” and robbed the youths of three “precious, irretrievable summers of their youth.”
Sanitation’s Farrell noted that his department has removed 210,779 tons of debris from the fields, utilizing 4,300 workers over a 63-week period.
DEP’s Miele pointed to the cooperation between various city agencies. His department completed materials testing and site assessment as part of the city’s case against the dumpers.
Trade Waste Chairman Casey added that he had asked the city’s attorney on Monday to start litigation to recoup the damages caused by the defendants.
Mary deBourbon, spokesperson for the D.A.’s Office, said that although it seemed like a long time to come up with the indictments, the investigation involved many agencies and took time to come up with the evidence.
“Not until we got the records of the three companies could we see a pattern of deceit,” she said. “It takes time to analyze and paper chases take a long time.”
She said that records were needed from DEP and Sanitation as well as from the three companies in order to analyze the books and find the truth.
The city-owned sports complex property in College Point includes 22 acres bounded by 130th and Ulmer Streets, between 23rd and 26th Avenues. It had been leased to the sports association for over 25 years for $1 a year.
Following the closing of the fields, the city decided to take control of the site and turn it into a public recreational area. Phase 1 renovation is expected to begin this month with an anticipated fall finish.
Unfortunately, it will be too late for the Little League teams this year, Avella noted, but he is hopeful that the roller hockey rink may be playable by then.
Work to regrade the fields began in 1999. Phase 1 calls for a Little League field, a baseball field, roller hockey rink and park house with a comfort station, bleachers, landscaping and an entry plaza.
Mayor Rudy Giuliani allocated $5 million for the initial work and Avella estimates the entire project should not exceed $6 million although later work calls for a soccer field, two additional Little League fields, parking, a football field, track and an adult soccer field.
During its peak, the sports association served 1,400 youngsters a year but after the complex was shut down, officials had to scramble to come up with nearby playing fields for its youth.
“We absolutely lost our entire football program,” Avella said. “It was destroyed.
“We did find alternate fields for the Little League teams and soccer but it hasn’t been easy,” he added.
With the city taking over the site as a new public recreational area, Avella sees it as a plus.
“Why should we pay for something that the rest of the city gets free by paying their taxes,” he said.
“It’s better as a Parks project than us leasing it,” he added. “We never had enough money.”
He said that the Parks Department has promised that the sports association will have first choice in applying for permits.
But looking back on the heartache and headaches created by the illegal landfill, Avella said he was happy to see some legal action, even though it can never make up for the lo st playing seasons.
“It was unfortunate that we had to go through this,” he said, “ which destroyed the dreams of children.”