The man responsible for dumping illegal fill at the College Point Sports Complex, forcing it to remain closed for youth sports the last six years, has pleaded guilty and agreed to pay the city $250,000 in restitution.
Benjamin Rastelli Jr., 47, of 166-48 24th Road in Whitestone, a contractor and the operator of the now defunct Enviro-Fill Inc., admitted in Queens Supreme Court on Monday that he allowed over 70 cubic yards of solid waste onto the sports fields between 1996 and 1997. He also admitted to falsifying a corporation invoice indicating the firm was accepting only clean fill when in actuality it was taking construction and demolition debris.
Judge Randall Eng accepted the defendant’s plea and will sentence Rastelli on June 2nd to a sentence of three months in jail to be served on weekends and five years’ probation. He also agreed to the $250,000 payback.
According to the charges, Rastelli and Enviro-Fill, under a city contract to regrade and level the 22-acre sports complex at 23-01 130th Street, permitted the dumping of metal, glass, sheetrock, wire, and other dangerous materials.
The company had agreed to upgrade the site by using clean fill at no charge to the city or the sports association with revenues from area contractors, who would pay for the privilege of dumping clean fill there.
In announcing the plea, Queens District Attorney Richard Brown was joined by city Commissioner of Investigation Rose Hearn; city Business Integrity Commission Chairman Jose Maldonado; Sanitation Commissioner John Doherty; Department of Environmental Protection Commissioner Christopher Ward, and State Department of Environmental Conservation Commissioner Erin Crotty.
Brown said that Rastelli put greed before the needs of the children and trashed their “field of dreams.” Hearn called the defendant greedy and selfish. “He polluted land for personal profit and left the city holding the bag for more than $10 million in cleanup costs. The sentence should remind people that greed and selfishness don’t pay.”
Sanitation Commissioner Doherty, whose agency closed down the field in 1997, said that Rastelli shamefully used the fields as his personal dumping grounds. “His guilty plea proves that crime just doesn’t pay, especially in New York City.”
The College Point Sports Association managed the property for over 25 years, leasing the land from the city for $1 a year. After the fiasco with Enviro-Fill, the city took back the land and after years of haggling, funding from the state and federal government was provided, allowing work to begin on regrading the fields in 2000.
The work has taken longer than expected but the $5 million, pledged to the city under Mayor Rudy Giuliani, has ensured that Phase 1 will be completed in early summer. It will include Little League fields, a football field, junior soccer field, a field house, an indoor roller skating rink, an adult baseball field and an adult soccer field.
City Councilman Tony Avella (D-Bayside), who served as president of the College Point Sports Association during the problems with Enviro0Fill, said on Tuesday that he is happy Rastelli pleaded guilty. “I’ve said all along that they should throw the book at all involved,” he said. “He took advantage of a community and forestalled a wonderful program. But Phase 1 work at the complex will be completed soon and in the end the community will have something it can be proud of.”
Prior to the landfill problems, the sports association served 1,400 youngsters a year. Following the fields’ closing, the organization had to scramble to find alternate fields, seriously hurting its endeavors. The group’s entire football program was lost.