DA SINI ANNOUNCES SPECIAL GRAND JURY REPORT ON ENVIRONMENTAL CRIMES & ILLEGAL DUMPING
Findings Highlight the Need for New Laws to Combat Environmental Crimes & Protect Damage to the Aquifer, LI’s Sole Source of Drinking Water
Click Here to Read the Full Report
Suffolk County District Attorney Timothy D. Sini today announced the findings of an in-depth, year-long investigation by a Suffolk County Supreme Court Special Grand Jury, empaneled by District Attorney Sini in July 2018, into the commission and effects of illegal dumping and other environmental crimes on Long Island.
“The investigation and prosecution of environmental crimes is a top priority for my administration,” District Attorney Sini said. “This report is a wake-up call that if we do not take immediate action to increase law enforcement’s ability to hold bad actors accountable and deter environmental crimes from occurring, these acts could result in irreparable damage to our environment and to Long Island’s aquifer, the sole source of our drinking water.”
The Special Grand Jury concluded that protecting the environment of Suffolk County from illegal dumping and sand mining 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. Their report includes 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.
The District Attorney’s Office is currently working in close collaboration with New York State and Suffolk County officials as well as its law enforcement partners to implement the recommended actions to further protect the public from the dangers of environmental crimes, including illegal dumping and sand mining.
“These crimes pose a clear threat to the health and safety of our residents and to our environment,” District Attorney Sini said. “We are committed to working with our partners at all levels of government, law enforcement agencies and environmental advocates to effect the necessary legislative and administrative changes to protect Suffolk County from environmental crimes.”
SPECIAL GRAND JURY:
The Special Grand Jury was empaneled from July 18, 2018 through August 2, 2019. During the first phase, the Special Grand Jury heard testimony and reviewed evidence related to an investigation of an illegal dumping scheme known as “Operation Pay Dirt.” As a result of the witnesses and evidence presented in connection with Operation Pay Dirt, the Special Grand Jury issued two separate criminal indictments: a 130-count indictment charging 30 individuals and 9 corporations; and a 5-count indictment charging one additional corporation. The defendants were indicted in connection with a scheme to illegally dispose of solid waste and construction & demolition material at residential and commercial properties across Long Island in order to avoid the regulations and fees associated with proper disposal. During the second phase, the Special Grand Jury considered legislative, executive, and administrative action to address illegal dumping and illegal sand mining operations.
The focus of the Special Grand Jury investigation was on two types of environmental crimes: illegal dumping and illegal sand mining operations.
Illegal dumping is the improper disposal of solid waste, including construction and demolition (“C&D”) material. These schemes benefit construction and demolition companies that would otherwise have to pay fees for proper disposal of C&D; waste transfer and recycling facilities that dilute C&D material with dirt rather than dispose of it pursuant to legal requirements; haulers who are willing to haul diluted C&D material and other solid waste to unwitting customers at nearby sites rather than driving it greater distances for proper disposal; and dirt brokers who connect the sources of C&D materials or diluted fill with facilities willing to participate in the fraudulent scheme or with unwitting customers looking for clean fill.
Sand mining is the extraction of sand from beneath the ground’s surface, which is a particularly lucrative operation on Long Island because of the unique makeup of its sand. While sand mining is legal with the proper permits, the Special Grand Jury found that illegal sand mining occurs on Long Island, which may pose certain risks to the environment, including the aquifer.
LEGISLATIVE & ADMINISTRATIVE RECOMMENDATIONS:
The Special Grand Jury recommended several legislative and administrative actions to effectively deter and prevent environmental crime, including the following:
- Require business entities to electronically document the handling of solid waste and other material from “cradle to grave,” or from the point of pickup to the point of final disposal, including the use of GPS tracking on the trucks that transport the materials, and make failure to maintain such documents a crime.
- Increase enforcement and punishment for environmental crimes under the Penal Law to better deter and punish criminal actors. This includes the creation of new laws to target the illegal disposal of solid waste; illegal possession, transportation, and acceptance of those materials; improper maintenance or falsification of records related to the disposal of solid waste; enhanced penalties for exposing the aquifer to contaminants; and enhanced overall penalties for environmental crimes.
- Criminalize conduct in which an individual applies for a permit for agricultural or building purposes where the intent is to use the property for another purpose, such as sand mining.
- Pass legislation to prohibit the issuance of sand mining permits where contamination to groundwater or drinking water on site or attributable to the site exceeds state or federal drinking water or groundwater standards.
- Amend New York State Environmental Conservation Law to prohibit the issuance of permits for sand mining in areas that could affect public health without the approval of the public health authority and the locality where the site is located.
- Amend New York State Executive Law to allow victims of environmental crimes to be eligible for compensation for damage to their personal property. The Special Grand Jury also recommended repealing recent amendments to New York State’s asset forfeiture laws, set to go into effect on October 1, 2019, so as to allow victims of environmental crimes to be eligible for restitution.
- Enhance resources dedicated to combating environmental crimes, including increasing training for law enforcement; dedicating specially-trained officers and detectives from local law enforcement agencies to receive environmental complaints and investigate environmental crimes; and including a member of the Suffolk County Department of Health Services on the District Attorney’s Environmental Crime Team, which consists of prosecutors, detectives and New York State Department of Environmental Conservation agents.