Adventures in Patakistan
Toxic Waste Dumping, Politics and the Mob in Upstate New York
© 2000 by Steve Hopkins
To the true paranoiac one of the best things that can possibly happen in life is to stumble upon a vast conspiracy of some kind – a biblically-proportioned, hellishly insidious plot you’ve always known was true. Better yet, the conspiracy has been perpetrated by people you instinctively dislike, arrogant bottom line worshipers who turn out to be just what you suspected all along – secretly evil persons masquerading as pillars of society while engaging in heinous acts that result in the creeping sickness and horrible deaths of thousands of unwitting, innocent victims.
In 1997, after an unlikely career change that brought me from a life as a New York City musician and club promoter to a much more rewarding one as an overworked cub reporter for a country newspaper in the Hudson Valley, I stumbled upon just such a conspiracy. I discovered that my adopted domicile, one of the more picturesque regions to be found anywhere on Planet Earth, was being systematically and permanently despoiled by a close-knit cadre of evildoers – made up of the representatives of big business, all levels of government, law enforcement, the legal profession and the mob. Ever since I began hearing rumors of toxic waste dumping from disgruntled, cancer-riddled residents, I’ve been rummaging around in town halls, state regulatory agencies and county office buildings and sharing information with other committed paranoiacs, some of whom are high-level investigators who’ve helped validate my onetime fantasy that underneath every other school, shopping mall, subdivision, golf course, sports stadium and children’s park, and mixed in with the pavement of nearly every superhighway and parking lot, are millions of gallons of untreated, highly toxic petrochemical waste, put there deliberately by people who were paid millions upon millions to do it.
Equally exciting, bringing a near-sexual frisson with every new revelation, is the fact that local, state and federal governments know all about the toxic waste dumping and, whenever pressed to act, routinely perform handstands to try and cover each problem up without actually doing anything about it. To mix a few stale metaphors, over and over I’ve found that those manning the gates of public accountability are people working hand in glove with the bad guys to pull the wool over the eyes of the unsuspecting public, and to keep their under-the-table financiers out of hot water.
Putting a damper on the euphoria of suddenly discovering that you’re right is the crushing sadness of what is really happening – that in a region of heart-stopping beauty, whose distinguishing characteristics include rolling hills, green fields and babbling brooks – you can’t get more than five miles from a simmering toxic waste dump. You dare not drink the water and, in certain areas, would be wise to avoid breathing too deeply as disturbing industrial odors waft out of the ground, 24 hours a day, in places where the only smell should be from dying leaves. The unfortunates who have moved blithely to the country to get away from the pollution and noise and danger of the city have found themselves and their children developing serious health problems. Respiratory ailments like asthma are alarmingly common, and clusters of leukemia, brain cancer and other toxin-related maladies abound. People you know and have grown to like are dropping like flies, and you have a good idea why.
This will primarily be a chronicle of the mid-Hudson Valley region of New York State, and how its despoiling at the hands of industrialists and organized criminals has proceeded unabated for more than 60 years, despite all efforts to curb it. And it is a story of how the highest offices in the state, including the Governor’s office currently occupied by George E. Pataki, a would-be vice-presidential candidate, are not only responsible for policies that perpetuate the process of illegal toxic waste dumping, but are intimately involved in proceedings at the meanest local level to snuff out all attempts to investigate and rectify known toxic waste dumps and prosecute the perpetrators.
The story will culminate in an account of an unlikely series of events in the little town of Beekman, N.Y., that serves as a window into this Byzantine underworld of mob hijinks, political favors, cover-ups and fancy maneuvering by high level government officials and connected law firms in the Governor’s inner circle, all in the name of toxic waste dumping for dollars. But first, because connecting the threads of this story necessarily involves casting an unusually wide net, a considerable amount of historical perspective is in order.
In his deceptively-titled 1998 potboiler “Pataki: An Autobiography,” New York State Governor George E. Pataki, the man who until recently harbored a dream of being a mere botched blow job from the Oval Office, waxes emotional about The Environment. Recalling a period of his sepia-tinted Peekskill, N.Y. youth spent along the shore of the tainted Hudson River at his Italian maternal grandfather’s boat club, Pataki writes: “At low tide, there was maybe a couple of inches of water, and all around you could see bottles and rusted gas tanks and all kinds of debris sunk into the river bottom. It was filthy. We were afraid to dip our toes in the water … Everyone just assumed that industrial waste would float downstream and become someone else’s problem, but the river paid for our neglect – and so did we.”
He then launches into a litany of environmental blather, taking credit for punchless initiatives like the Hudson River Valley Greenway and the Hudson River Estuary Management Act, culminating in this howler: “And in 1997, for the first time in a hundred years, a bald eagle was born in the Hudson Valley.”
What he fails to mention, however, is that his beloved Peekskill was, is, and presumably always will be a playground for the power, garbage and toxic waste industries, all of which have been aided in their myriad projects by local government intervention and public money. Peekskill is the site of two of the three Indian Point nuclear plants, the continued existence of which Pataki endorses despite the fact that they are aging badly and increasingly prone to dangerous incidents like the recent radioactive gas leak. It is home to the giant Resco incinerator, a regional facility that mass-burns unsorted, uninspected garbage and sells the electricity it produces to Consolidated Edison. The $243 million plant, which was lured to the city during Pataki’s 1981-84 term as Peekskill mayor, was more than 50% financed by tax-exempt Westchester County Industrial Development Agency (IDA) bonds.
Lined up in a daily traffic jam at the Resco plant are hundreds of trucks from around Westchester County and the metropolitan New York region bringing thousands of tons a day of garbage and God-knows-what-else to be incinerated. Whatever isn’t spewed into the air is turned into chunks of concentrated toxic ash, which are then shipped to a landfill. Most of the trucks are from Suburban Carting, until this writing still owned and operated – under the presumably watchful eye of a federally-appointed monitor – by the incarcerated Genovese associate Thomas Milo, a major player in the black market toxic waste disposal industry.
Milo’s Suburban Carting is one of the largest privately-owned waste haulers left in the New York area, and so far he’s hanging onto it like there’s no tomorrow. Most of the rest, including A-1 Compaction, the flagship company of the late Genovese Capo Alfred “Cockeyed Nick” Rattenni – another big-time toxic waste king – have sold out to one of a dwindling number of nationwide industry giants: Waste Management, Browning-Ferris Industries (BFI) and USA Waste. Pocketing millions in stock options upon selling out, many of these mob-connected owners have been assimilated wholesale into the corporate fold – collecting a salary while continuing to ply their businesses as usual.
Adjacent to the ash plant is the Charles Point Industrial Park, also developed with IDA bond money, that is home to a number of well-connected, Pataki-friendly businesses. The plumbing firm of Frank & Lindy, the contractor of choice on nearly every publicly-funded local construction project from the time Pataki became Peekskill mayor in 1981, anchors one block of businesses. White Plains Coat and Apron, an industrial dry-cleaner fingered by local activists as having a murky history involving both Pataki and other concerns allegedly less admirable, takes up another chunk of the park’s real estate. Congresswoman Sue Kelly, tapped by the national GOP leadership to harass Hillary Rodham Clinton now that she’s moved into her district, has a few irons in the Peekskill/Charles Point fire as well, care of her wheeler-dealer husband, William A. Kelly and his development firm, Point Associates.
In the back of the industrial park lies the dubious, dusty domain of Karta Recycling, run by the notorious Cartalemi family, who are frequent and fervent Pataki campaign donors. A recipient of $2.7 million in local government-sponsored IDA largesse, Karta, which reportedly also supplies South Americans to work on Pataki’s Garrison estate, had a rough time of it in 1999, having been accused in a Connecticut case of dumping asbestos in the Quinnipiac Landfill, and having to explain the horrific deaths of two South Americans working at the company’s Charles Point yard. In the first incident in June, 19-year-old Santos Perez Cordero suffocated to death beneath a pile of garbage that was unceremoniously dumped on him. In October Dorlin Kallo and Miguel Pena were mowed down by a large truck – Pena broke his arm, but Kallo was killed. Karta’s troubles were not over with the new millennium – the company was turned down in February by the New York City Trade Waste Commission (formed a few years ago to ferret out haulers with mob ties) for a permit to pick up garbage in the city.
Peekskill speculator/business owner Tom Kelly – a compatriot of Pataki’s whose P.J. Kelly’s, an Irish-themed bistro taking up half of the local Metro-North train station, sports brass plates engraved with the names of the “F.O.G. Club” (Friends of George) – was found dead on Jan. 23, 1999, drowned in the Hudson at Charles Point in his partially burned car. According to the close-mouthed Peekskill police (who shooed a local reporter from the scene when he tried to take a photo), foul play was not a factor, but no possible explanation has ever been offered. A small fish in a small pond, Kelly was known mostly as a guy who speculated in downtown real estate and liked to party a bit too hard. Nonetheless his P.J. Kelly’s “F.O.G. Club” roster is a who’s who of movers and shakers in Pataki’s incestuous orbit. The list includes:
• Michael Finnegan: Pataki’s longtime personal counsel, described by insiders as his “alter ego,” Finnegan is a very busy guy. In ’92 and ’93 he was a member of Pataki’s Peekskill/White Plains/Manhattan-based law firm, Plunkett & Jaffe, after which he formed his own partnership, Finnegan & Mignano, which for a time did business out of the same 1008 Main Street Peekskill address. As a Pataki-appointed member of the Peekskill IDA board and as a private lawyer, Finnegan has been personally involved in most of Peekskill’s largest development projects since 1982 – including Charles Point, its incinerator, and its industrial park tenants. A top aide to Pataki dating back to his state assembly and senate days, Finnegan does double duty as campaign manager during the Governor’s runs for office. He’s also somehow found time to head the Peekskill GOP;
• Stephen Mignano: A former law partner at embattled Pataki crony Al Pirro’s firm of Pirro & Monsell (the only firm besides Plunkett & Jaffe to ever do significant development business in Peekskill), Mignano later joined P&J for a couple of years before teaming up with Finnegan (above) and Thomas Kelly (apparently unrelated to the Tom Kelly who expired in the river);
• William Florence: Pataki’s first hand-picked successor to take over the mantle of Peekskill mayor in 1982 when he abdicated the throne to become a state assemblyman. Florence later became the city’s corporate counsel, and is now the state Department of Motor Vehicles deputy commissioner for legal affairs;
• Richard “Dickie” Jackson: Pataki’s self-described best friend since fourth grade, he was anointed Peekskill’s first black mayor when Florence stepped down in 1984. In 1995, Pataki appointed him commissioner of the DMV, where he pulls down $90K as Florence’s boss;
• Robert Flower: For eight years a city councilman, Flower was also vice chairman of the Peekskill IDA for eight years before rising to the chairmanship. His undergarment company, Bliss Manufacturing, sublets 19,000 square feet of Charles Point space in a building erected by William A. Kelly’s Point Associates;
• Tim Carey: A key member of Pataki’s gubernatorial campaign, Carey is now chairman and executive director of the state Consumer Protection Board;
• Joseph Seymour: A former Peekskill city manager, Seymour was executive deputy commissioner of the DMV when he was appointed by Pataki to replace Peter Delaney as the $95K commissioner of the Office of General Services;
• Patrick Garvey: The current Peekskill city manager.
Since Pataki caught the eye of former U.S. Senator Al D’Amato, the man whom Village Voice reporter Dan Collins says twice asked former U.S. Attorney Rudy Giuliani to intervene on behalf of high-level mobsters (for Genovese Godfather Vincent “Chin” Gigante’s brother Mario in 1983, and for Gambino Boss Paul Castellano in 1985), his inner circle has widened considerably. It now includes Charles Gargano, his chairman of the Empire State Development Corporation and vice chairman of the Port Authority. Gargano is the former no-show ambassador to Trinidad & Tobago – he and D’Amato got to play themselves in a Manhattan power party scene in the film “Devil’s Advocate,” portrayed as friends and associates of Satan (Al Pacino), whom up-and-comer Keanu Reeves just “had to meet.” Typecasting.
It also includes D’Amato’s former (and Pataki’s current) mouthpiece, Zenia Mucha, a ferocious political pit bull who cut her teeth covering up many of Big Al’s many public scandals and imbroglios. It includes U.S. Congressman John Sweeney, a former Pataki staffer whom he and D’Amato tapped to replace the retiring Gerald Solomon as General Electric’s point man in the Hudson River PCB wars. And it includes Texas Governor George W. Bush, a man running strong in the hunt to win the Presidency.
But Pataki hasn’t forgotten where he came from, either. In the swirling, incestuous world of politically connected lawyering in New York State, the firm of Plunkett & Jaffe cuts a wide swath, doing a brisk business with commercial developers and municipalities up and down the Hudson River. The firm’s prowess has not gone unnoticed. “Every one of the half-dozen major residential developments approved since he took (mayoral) office has hired George Pataki’s law firm, Plunkett & Jaffe,” intoned Wayne Barrett in his furious 1994 Village Voice exposé, “The Dark Prince of Peekskill.”
Attorneys that have their professional roots in the firm include Pataki, his big brother Lou, the high-powered “FOG” attorneys noted above (Finnegan and Mignano) and their partner Thomas Kelly, and Pataki’s commissioner of the state Department of Environmental Conservation, John Cahill.
Another given in the world of political lawyering is the existence of good-and-evil Siamese twin (or sometimes even triplet) law firms that divvy up business by type, so as to leave an impression of propriety on the “good” firm without turning down juicy, lucrative business from less upstanding citizens. In the Westchester County seat of White Plains, Plunkett & Jaffe’s “evil” twin is the firm of Keane & Beane, which does business at the same One North Broadway address and has shared with P&J a flotilla of attorneys over the years, including John Burkhardt, Ronald Longo, Richard O’Rourke, Lawrence Praga and Joel Sachs. One of Keane & Beane’s top clients is Genovese mobster and garbage honcho Thomas Milo, someone the squeaky-clean Plunkett & Jaffe presumably wouldn’t touch with a 10-foot pole. Keane & Beane is listed as the corporate counsel of the Al Turi Landfill, Inc., which is under federal supervision for racketeering, bribery, extortion and tax fraud.
When performing – or being directed to perform – work well outside their bailiwick, the carefully maintained distinction between Siamese twin law firms can break down. Both Plunkett & Jaffe and Keane & Beane, as we shall later see, are deeply embroiled – along with P&J alumnus/DEC commish John Cahill – on the wrong side of things in the little town of Beekman’s pesky toxic waste scandal.
Dutchess County, N.Y., a verdant swath of undulating terrain nestled between the Hudson River and the Connecticut Berkshires, is known mostly for its horse farms, wineries and a growing A-list of celebrity weekend residents to rival the helipad-dotted hilltops of central and northern Westchester. Timothy Leary held court here in the 1960s, squatting with his tattered underage minions on the Hitchcock estate in tony Millbrook, swilling psychedelics and driving the local gendarmes – including Assistant DA G. Gordon Liddy – out of their minds.
It has also been in the regional and national news for reasons more in tune with America’s apocalyptic love affair with depravity: Tawana Brawley came crawling out of a sack of human excrement in Beacon, helpless in a white man’s world until Al Sharpton and the boys ran to her rescue screaming racism, eventually getting themselves sued by her exonerated “attacker” for character defamation; overweight mama’s boy Kendall Francois murdered a series of Poughkeepsie crack whores and kept their remains in a plastic kids’ swimming pool in the attic; and a backwoods Rambo brutally raped a mother and child in bucolic Tivoli Bays, using barbed wire to tie up his victims.
More recently the Dutchess County GOP, one well-oiled backbone of Pataki’s financial and political strength, has been exposed as a snakepit of corruption – the FBI has been crawling all over the place for a few years now, getting the goods on an organized shakedown scheme controlled by former county GOP chairman and elections commissioner William Paroli, Sr., who reportedly donated much of the illicit proceeds to state Republican coffers. One key federal witness in the case, a notorious building inspector/bagman named Basil “Bill” Raucci, was found floating face down in the river, an apparent “suicide.” Another, a water department honcho named Fred Andros, blew his chin off in a misguided attempt to snuff himself as he was about to be arrested for conspiring in the murder of his married mistress Susan Fassett – a public employee who was also a federal witness. Fassett was gunned down in a church parking lot after choir practice, allegedly by a stocky, masculine-looking rube named Dawn Silvernail, another Andros sexual “conquest.” Only weeks earlier, Andros and Fassett were both involved with Silvernail in an improbable menage-a-trois – one magical session of which was videotaped for posterity at the local pumphouse.
As the federal investigation winds down, Paroli has pled guilty to one count of conspiracy and will presumably have his laughably light sentence commuted so he can die in peace of prostate cancer; a steady stream of public lowlifes have been indicted only to have the charges dropped as they blabbed to the feds; and across the river Democratic U.S. Congressman Maurice Hinchey is hinting darkly that all this local corruption is only the tip of the iceberg and that Pataki’s administration is littered with culpable individuals lifted from the swelled ranks of dirty Mid-Hudson politicos.
Meanwhile, the southern half of Dutchess County is also the heart of what has recently been dubbed “Big Blue Country” by the suits at the Wall Street Journal, who identified the region as one of the “13 Hottest Places on the New High-Tech Map” of the United States, right up there with California’s Silicon Valley and North Carolina’s Research Triangle. This designation is due to the recent creation of IBM’s new Semiconductor Research and Development Center at the company’s former East Fishkill manufacturing plant – fueled by a giant tax break from Pataki and the resultant tax-exempt influx of millions of dollars in high tech venture capital. All but abandoned by IBM in the early ’90s, the sprawling East Fishkill campus is going great guns again, this time around using cheap temp labor, as is the still-robust Poughkeepsie manufacturing plant. Incidentally, the IBM presence over the years has transformed most of southern Dutchess into a depressing, toxic suburban gulag, criss-crossed with high tension wires and blessed with groundwater so undrinkable that plans are afoot to pipe water in from a giant Hudson River water treatment plant 25 miles away before everyone gets sick and spoils further development plans.
But what really separates Dutchess County from the pack is its status as a willing receptacle for other peoples’ toxic waste. With its wild open spaces, struggling farmers and spent open pit mines yawning to be filled with C&D debris, all in easy proximity via good roads to some of the Northeast’s most heavily industrialized regions, Dutchess has historically been treated as a convenient location for the manufacturing concerns of the New York metropolitan area to dispose of the undesirable by-products of a robust economy. The county sits just outside the radius of the New York City Watershed, an area which, while not immune to illicit dumping, is subject to a higher degree of public scrutiny. As a result, beneath its green rolling hills Dutchess County is the unwitting home to a far greater number of toxic industrial waste sites than any other rural county in New York State. According to a map of state superfund and hazardous substance sites produced by Applied GIS of Schenectady, N.Y., Dutchess has more than twice as many hazardous waste sites as Westchester, nearly three times as many as Ulster, and a third more than heavily landfilled Orange County. With more than 70 known sites, the vast majority of which have so far evaded cleanup through the state’s superfund program, Dutchess’ total exceeds that of Albany, Schenectady, Rensselaer, Greene and Columbia counties combined. As many of these sites are clustered in highly developed corridors like those along Route 9 and the Hudson River from Hyde Park to Beacon or along Route 22 in the Harlem Valley, most of the county’s population lives within a mile or two of multiple sites.
Although especially egregious, the problem in Dutchess is hardly unique. The industrial Northeast, with greater metropolitan New York City at its epicenter, is universally accepted to be the throbbing heart of the multi-billion-dollar U.S. petrochemical industry. It stands to reason then that the entire New York metropolitan area, particularly the easily accessible areas of New Jersey, upstate New York, Long Island and western Connecticut, is fair game to toxic waste dumpers.
Better Living through Petrochemistry
So what exactly is “toxic waste,” and why is it so bad?
While it often includes red-bag hospital waste and radioactive materials, the bulk of what is termed “toxic waste” in the U.S. is generated by the petrochemical industry and the hundreds of other industries, like IBM, that use its end products.
The petrochemical industry was launched in the latter half of the 19th century, when techniques began to be developed to exploit the various hydrocarbon chains contained in crude oil. Since then, nearly every technological step forward has been accompanied by a seriously hazardous by-product, and most of the end products are highly toxic in and of themselves.
Samuel Epstein, in his book The Politics of Cancer, tries mightily to explain: “petrochemicals are the quintessence of a ‘process industry’ in which a small number of primary constituents from crude oil are converted into a large number of intermediate chemicals in a still larger number of large scale end products.”
Epstein goes on to reveal that the manufacture of chemical-based products such as paints, solvents, synthetic fabrics, plastics, pesticides and drugs has increased exponentially through the years. As a result, the production of synthetic organic chemicals in the U.S. increased from a billion pounds in 1940 to 30 billion pounds in 1950, to 300 billion pounds in 1976. With the advent of the silicon revolution, driven by the boom in electronics and personal computers, the need for the kinds of killer solvents used in “clean rooms” during the manufacture of computer microchips has driven the nation’s production of toxic chemicals to even dizzier heights.
Toxic waste comes in many, many forms – from newspaper and magazine ink to the spent chemicals used in industrial dry cleaning operations to the PCBs used in refrigerator manufacturing to waste oil and dirty solvents from trucking companies and highway departments to the millions of gallons of toxic chemicals gone through annually by the semiconductor industry to clean its precious chips. Many of these waste products have similar characteristics – the multi-named perchloroethylene (a.k.a. tetrachloroethylene, PCE and “perc”), for example, is contained in dry cleaning fluid, metal degreaser, water repellant, paint remover, silicone lubricant, adhesives and spot removers. It has also been found with increasing regularity in illegally buried 55-gallon drums and in big nasty blobs in aquifers. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has classified it as an animal carcinogen (it causes liver and bladder cancer in rodents) and a “probable” human carcinogen.
Benzene, a known cause of leukemia in rubber workers that also tends to show up in buried drums, is in paints, inks, adhesives, rubbers, glues, old spot removers and furniture wax. It’s presumably what Laura Dern kept trying to get high on in “Citizen Ruth.” Unfortunately, it is also one of the primary antiknock ingredients in gasoline, a fact that gives fits to those trying to prove the existence of cancer clusters. At any rate, it’s a good idea not to breathe gas fumes while filling your tank, even if it doesn’t smell half bad. It could kill you as dead as any rubber worker.
Trichlorethylene is another commonly dumped by-product of the Industrial Age. A cause of liver, lung and testicular tumors, kidney cancer and leukemia in rats (and “probably” humans, too, says the EPA), TCE – basically a metal degreaser – is found in typewriter correction fluid, paint removers and strippers, adhesives and spot removers. Other common ingredients showing up in our nation’s toxic soup are trichloroethane (TCA), toluene, polyvinyl chloride, methylene chloride, dioxins and furans.
Some of this stuff is highly flammable and combustible, and can burn holes in you if you touch it (more on this later). Virtually all of it is slowly leaching into the water table, seeping from underneath “capped” landfills or out of rotting drums buried beneath everything imaginable, getting into the water we all drink and the air we all breathe in ever-increasing amounts, “probably” a major factor in the sharp increase in cancer rates in the last half of the 20th century.
Clean Up Your Room
Meanwhile, 100-odd cancer sufferers and miscarriage victims who worked in “clean rooms” in IBM’s East Fishkill plant during the ’80s have joined together with 20 or so others from IBM’s San Jose, Calif. plant in a class action lawsuit, accusing Big Blue of having put them in the unenviable position of handling and breathing cancer-, miscarriage- and birth defect-causing chemicals over protracted periods, all the while telling them everything was OK. The suit involves 128 former workers in all, as well as 18 children with developmental problems and birth defects. The suit and its repercussions have been national news, covered by USA Today, The Wall Street Journal and NBC Dateline with Katie Couric, among others. While the shitstorm has been building, IBM and the rest of the semiconductor industry have been busy circling the wagons, fending off media questions and trying mightily to avoid getting dragged into performing potentially disastrous long-term industry health studies. Even the normally booster-y Cahners rag Electronic Business, “The Management Magazine for the Electronics Industry,” late last year issued a dire warning to its target audience. “There’s a 3,000-pound gorilla in the room, but the semiconductor industry seems bent on ignoring it until it takes someone’s arm off,” wrote reporter Tam Harbert. “If the plaintiffs’ lawyers get their way, the first IBM trial will stir up a wave of public sympathy. It will feature Zachary Ruffing, a 13-year-old boy born with severe birth defects to a couple of IBM semiconductor workers, according to Amanda Hawes, an attorney with the Alexander Law Firm in San Jose, one of the plaintiff’s attorneys. Unless Armonk, NY-based IBM scores a clear legal victory in that first case, some in the industry fear there could be a wave of litigation similar to, if not as massive as, the lawsuits over silicone breast implants that bankrupted Dow Corning Corp. of Midland, MI.”
Yikes! But Harbert, just getting started, accuses the industry of acting like “a deer caught in the headlights,” writing that “so far the semiconductor industry’s response to public concern about these allegations has been evasive and defensive. It has adopted a bunker mentality, reacting to inquiries with responses that, at best, make it sound unsure of itself and, at worst, make it look like a guilty culprit with something to hide. Does it think that this will just blow over?” Go get ‘em, Tam!
Where Have All the Toxins Gone?
Of course, none of these media stories ask where all that toxic waste goes after it leaves the clean room. For IBM as well as for the rest of the petrochemical-dependent industrial world, the answers to those kinds of questions are exceedingly complex, requiring careful extraction from the amorphous mounds of documented history littering the dusty shelves of town and county offices, DEC, EPA and law enforcement agency files and other public records rooms. Many answers are contained in documents painstakingly amassed by environmentally-inclined investigators who ply their lonely trade for years on end without hope of their work being acknowledged or seeing the light of public scrutiny. And once in a great while someone manages to get a work published that pulls all the pieces together and provides a benchmark for later work. One of these is Alan Block and Frank Scarpitti’s marvelous out-of-print opus, Poisoning for Profit: The Mafia and Toxic Waste in America, which leaves no stone unturned in chronicling the golden era of the toxic dumping industry, from its inception through 1985. Another is James B. Jacobs’ Gotham Unbound: How New York City was Liberated from the Grip of Organized Crime, which unfortunately makes the preposterous claim that, with the 1997 sentencing of Vincent “Chin” Gigante, the battle is effectively over and La Cosa Nostra has been decimated beyond repair.
In the good old days before the EPA was formed and toxic waste dumping was made a prosecutable crime, most industries just trucked it to the local municipal dump, or littered it over their own or nearby properties, wallowing in their own filth and giving themselves and their neighbors cancer. Many of these ancient waste sites are still unremediated, as the companies no longer exist and can’t be held accountable for the expensive clean-up costs (the EPA’s much-maligned “Superfund” program only tackles the easy cases, in which deep-pocketed, obviously guilty perpetrators like Union Carbide, Texaco, Ford Motor Company and IBM can be dragged into agreeing to pay their share). Most of these old waste sites have been designated “brownfields” to be “capped” with parking lots and new strip malls, bringing them back on the tax rolls as quickly as possible without doing a proper clean-up job.
With the EPA regulations of the early ’70s, however, a black market in toxic waste handling was created overnight, as companies found themselves faced with the very expensive cost of shipping waste offsite to distant recycling centers. Mob-run garbage haulers throughout the greater metropolitan region – owned or controlled by notorious Genovese- and Gambino-approved miscreants like Matty “The Horse” Ianniello, Jimmy Failla, Alfred “Cockeyed Nick” Rattenni and his son Alfred “Nick Jr.,” the Milo brothers (Thomas and Nicholas), the Mongellis (Louis and Robert), Alfred DeMarco and a host of others, quickly took over the business of getting rid of toxic waste for less than half the up-to-$1,000-a-barrel legal cost, no questions asked. According to more than one veteran organized crime watcher, the new industry quickly became the Genoveses’ and Gambinos’ number-one profit center, eclipsing the combined take from drugs, prostitution, gambling and loansharking.
So between the early 1970s and the mid-1980s when federal legislation began the process of shutting them down, more than 90 percent of America’s toxic effluvium went illegally to “sanitary landfills,” most of them owned and operated by the New York-based garbage mob. With so much money to be made, the systematic bribing and/or threatening of public officials and representatives of law enforcement was successful to the point that, for example, an overstuffed truck from Round Lake Sanitation (a Milo company), with 25% industrial and red bag hospital waste “cocktailed” in with its regular garbage, could, without signing in, roll right past the scales and DEC inspectors into the Al Turi landfill in Orange County (30% owned by Milo), dumping its illicit load. The same process was being repeated thousands of times a day at municipal and mob-controlled landfills dotting the metro region – at Fresh Kills in Staten Island, at Island Park on Long Island, at Wallkill in Orange County, at the Hertel landfill in Ulster County, at Croton in Westchester, and at the FICA landfill in Dutchess County (the “F” and the “I” stand for the Genoveses Joseph Fiorillo and Matty “The Horse” Ianniello).
A couple of EPA studies provided the impetus for the government to finally act after years of dicking around – one completed in 1977 showed chemical contamination in 80% of the landfills looked at and that 34,000 landfills were causing significant environmental and health problems; the other conducted in 1979 determined that between 1950 and 1979 about 1.5 trillion pounds of industrial wastes were crammed into the worst 3,300 landfills by only 53 companies. So through the 1980s the EPA began forcing the worst landfills to close and be capped, a flawed process that is still happening today.
When a landfill is slated to be capped, many things can happen – including a golden opportunity for mob-tied waste dumpers to get rid of one last giant batch of crushed, untested, toxin-laced C&D fill as part of the capping process, and get paid for it. This actually happened in at least three places – the Wallkill landfill in Orange County, the Hertel landfill in Ulster County and the notorious FICA landfill in Dutchess.
Nonetheless, the closing of many of the Northeast’s landfills did manage to force another adjustment in the organized toxic dumpers’ business methodology. They started searching for (and attempting to bribe DEC officials for) permits for new landfills, which were increasingly hard to come by. At the same time they looked around (with cash at the ready) for places to dump cocktailed C&D debris.
For a short period in the late 1980s, a loophole in New York State’s dumping laws allowed small landowners with limited acreage to accept C&D fill for up to a year without getting a permit. Although local vigilance and surveillance in Westchester and Putnam counties kept most of the dumpers at bay, in the unprepared towns of eastern and northern Dutchess County this loophole resulted in an explosion of unregulated dumping as hundreds of trucks, day and night, rumbled into the county up Route 22, dubbed “the C&D corridor of the Hudson Valley,” to deposit their poisonous loads on scores of hardscrabble farms and small speculative properties slated for development.
Two veteran soldiers in the toxic wars, FBI agents David Rhieu and Daniel Butchko, provided valuable documentation of the inner workings of the garbage mob from 1987 to the early ’90s, when they filed a pair of pleas with the federal court in New York’s Southern District for permission to set up wiretaps at the Red Hook, Dutchess County residence of Charles Olsen– a front man for the Genovese mob in the upstate landfill/C&D dump business – and later at the Mamaroneck office of Thomas Milo, owner of Suburban Carting and an upstate dumping power broker. The results of the approved wiretaps were eventually submitted as evidence in a raft of federal cases that resulted in the successful prosecution of Milo and his brother Nicholas, as well as fellow gangsters Vincent “Chin” Gigante, Alfred “Nick” Rattenni and Louis Mongelli. The Milos and Chin are still in federal prison, Rattenni is dead (he was let out early so he could die with dignity), and Mongelli is in the Witness Security Program.
To obtain approval for a wiretap one must show cause, meaning that Rhieu and Butchko had to put together entire dossiers on the mobsters based on years of surveillance and subterfuge. Rhieu’s case was partially built on the strength of an informant, “CS-1,” who described a flurry of not-so-friendly “sit downs” to sort out a turf dispute between Rattenni and the Mongelli/Milo/Gigante crowd. Apparently Rattenni was supposed to sell A-1 Compaction to Thomas Milo, Louis Mongelli and “Chin” for around $30 million, with Gigante’s interest to be held by Mongelli to keep his name out of it.
CS-1 later advised Rhieu that Chin was getting pissed off about Rattenni dragging his feet on the sale and that he “has expressed an interest in having Rattenni murdered after the initial $3 million down payment is made to Rattenni, so that they can take over Rattenni’s business without ever paying the balance.”
Meanwhile Alan Reiter, who according to Agent Butchko “laundered more than $1 million for the Mongellis,” started cooperating with the feds in October 1987. He pleaded guilty in January 1992 to conspiracy and tax evasion charges, after secretly recording more than 200 conversations with the Mongellis. He is now in the federal Witness Security Program. One of Reiter’s regular contacts in the money laundering operation was Mongelli front man Charles Olsen, who ran, among other things, a construction equipment rental company called Dutchess Equipment Sales, based in a trailer on the Clermont property of the Carl LaMunyan Construction and Demolition Company. Olsen was an employee of the Mongellis from 1982 until August 1990, and was described by Louis Mongelli in a taped conversation as “like a brother” to him, as well as the handler of all his “bag shit.” Olsen was turned by the FBI in April 1990 and pleaded guilty in December 1991 to bribery and illegally structuring cash transactions. He, too, is in the Witness Security Program.
Not coincidentally, the LaMunyan property is one of the most poisoned small C&D dumpsites ever chronicled by the New York State DEC. Beginning in February 1988, under the aegis of silent partners Charles Olsen and Louis Mongelli, LaMunyan began filling four acres of his property with tainted C&D debris. That November the DEC cited him for being in violation of solid waste regulations, and the Town of Clermont obtained a temporary restraining order to stop the carnage. He was later caught dumping debris and was found in contempt of court and sent to jail for 15 days, although the contempt sentence was waived when LaMunyan signed a DEC consent order for remediation and closure of the site.
The site was “closed,” but the groundwater, which runs into nearby Stoney Creek and out into the Hudson River at Tivoli, is suffused with heavy concentrations of benzene, ethylbenzene, xylene, copper, cadmium, lead, aluminum, toluene, tetrachloroethylene, trichloroethane, trichlorofluorene, hydrogen sulfide and cyanide that were dumped there. The air is heavy with many of these chemicals as well. A state Department of Health survey later determined that many of the symptoms reported by respondents living nearby, such as eye and respiratory irritation, are consistent with exposure to hydrogen sulfide.
Whatever the Fuck
A PLAY IN THREE ACTS
Prologue: Bad publicity
The government was later able to use both Reiter and Olsen in a series of stings to get the Mongellis to bribe government officials. The first of these began with Mongelli complaining to Reiter about “bad publicity” he was receiving in newspapers referring to links between organized crime and the garbage industry. Reiter told Mongelli he “might be able to do something” through a possible connection in the state assembly. According to Rhieu’s testimony, Reiter ended up giving an upstate “newspaper editor named Ethel Nadel, who was and is a close friend of New York State Assemblyman Alan Abramson,” $2,000 of the $10,000 cash Mongelli had spotted him, in order to set up a meeting with the assemblyman. “Nadel set up the meeting, and as Reiter drove Abramson to the restaurant where they were to talk, Reiter handed Abramson an envelope containing $500 in $100 bills,” wrote Rhieu. “According to Reiter, Abramson removed the cash from the envelope, counted it, and kept it.”
Abramson subsequently arranged a meeting in Albany between Reiter, Nadel and then-assemblyman Maurice Hinchey, the chairman of the committee investigating organized crime in the solid waste business. True to his form as a veteran crusader in the toxic wars, Hinchey rebuffed Reiter, telling him the Mongellis had organized crime connections and that he should have nothing to do with them.
Act I: For why?
Reiter kept trying to induce Mongelli to engage in further bribery attempts. The following series of conversations, despite reading like a cross between an Abbott & Costello routine and a bad Sopranos script, say plenty about the freewheeling mentality of the garbage mob:
Reiter: Remember I told you about that Abramson deal?
Reiter: Okay, well, let me see how he said it. I’m trying to see how he said it, ’cause he has given me information little by little. It’s like whatever. Remember you gave me $10,000 to give him.
Reiter: Okay, he said it’s going to be more than that. So I said listen, that’s no problem as long as it can do for him. He just said to me that the person he’s going to set up to either meet with you or something has to do something with environmental issues up in Albany that will be worthwhile to you. I think he’s going to ask around $25,000.
Mongelli: For why? For the last time?
Reiter: Okay, that’s what. What I can say to him …
Mongelli: What is he doing for me that I should give him more money? What do I need him for? I thought he had a deal coming up. If that’s a deal that I could benefit, or else I don’t need him. What do I have to go higher for?
Reiter: I understand. What I’m saying is, if he says something to me, what do I have to say to him to say hey, how do you …
Mongelli: If you got something that you want to talk to me about – a deal that I don’t need anybody – that could be important to me. If you have a deal that you could cut that I’m going to get so much out of, or I could, if I could maybe get a landfill or a debris dump or, what is it that you’re putting on the table? (Unintelligible) I don’t want to know nothing because as far as Penaluna (landfill) is, that fucking Hinchey destroyed me. He didn’t bag nothing down. They came down with all kinds of shit one day. He didn’t block that whatsoever.
Reiter: Yeah, but he stopped the newspaper articles.
Mongelli: Ah, the newspaper articles, I got them all up there. They put up a big stink, my brothers I got them all up there. That fucking guy just kept pouring them on.
Act II: We’ll do this, we’ll do that
Then in May 1988, Reiter struck paydirt, getting a tape recording of Mongelli offering to pay Abramson $200,000 if the assemblyman could get him an approval for a landfill permit from the DEC, using Reiter as a front man.
Mongelli: We want a landfill, we want other permits for …
Mongelli: … transfer stations here and there, that you go through the DEC, there’s a couple of other shits …
Reiter: A lot of things, huh?
Mongelli: That, that’s a little shit. The main thing is a big landfill. If you can get a landfill on the line – but, in other words, if this guy was close to, let’s say he’s close to or he needs to be, he goes to Albany, he has a lot … (inaudible)
Reiter: He’s gonna be close to him if, if I tell him that ah, but see how much ah, as I said, why don’t you put a price on it, I’m gonna tell him that he’s gonna be, got to get close to him. But if he thinks it’s only …
Reiter: … gonna be $5,000 or $10,000, he might not want to get close to that guy. ‘Cause your politicians, they, they’re nuts, I’m telling you. They’re crazy. Why don’t you just one day sit down and decide how much you think it’s worth? That’s all I’m saying.
Mongelli: For what?
Reiter: To, in, in order to get, let’s say ah, a transfer station or ah, permits or whatever.
Mongelli: (Inaudible) we got a transfer, ah, that’s not get ah, I’ll get, I’ll get on my own, lawfully.
Reiter: Oh, okay. All right.
Mongelli: I don’t need this guy for that shit.
Reiter: All right, so then, then you need this guy for ah, landfill, okay.
Reiter: If, ah but …
Mongelli: If you get me a landfill, it’s worth two hundred grand.
Mongelli: Now go and tell him that, if he wants it, he’s interested.
Reiter: That’s all I’m saying, that’s the …
Mongelli: But I’m not giving you no …
Mongelli: … fucking money up front.
Reiter: No problem. Look … (laughs)
Mongelli: You get paid when I open the fucking door, when they dropping the garbage there.
Reiter: Okay, okay. Well, see now I know, see now …
Mongelli: Now, you knew that before, I told …
Reiter: … I, look, no …
Mongelli: … you that we gave you that proposition before. It fell apart. He never delivered. He never delivered. I gave you that proposition a long time ago when we were back here, and you went to him, he couldn’t deliver. That’s when Williams was there.
Reiter: It was Williams.
Mongelli: I had …
Reiter: Yeah, but Williams was a different kind of guy. This guy, he says to me, Williams he wasn’t really close to, this guy he can get close to. That’s the difference.
Mongelli: Well, how do you like that. Listen to me.
Mongelli: Say: “Listen to me. I spoke to my friend. He’d like to get a landfill.” You can’t just meet the guy one fucking day and say I want a landfill.
Reiter: No, I understand that.
Mongelli: You get, set a groundwork, get his habits.
Mongelli: Ah, “How you doing?” And “I got a good friend who wants you to open a landfill.” We’ll make you front the landfill.
Reiter: Huh. Yeah, I can do it.
Mongelli: That’s you understand, the owner doesn’t show our names. We’ll make you front it and whip out the papers that we own it. We’ll make you front it like he’s dealing with you. We’ll give you the engineers, we’ll do this, we’ll do that.
Reiter: And how do I go about getting all the financing?
Mongelli: We’ll do the financing.
Reiter: All right. Well, see, then I might want to put some of my money into, put into, ah, doing this guy, see I know it’s worth $200,000. So I might want to give him some money for play money. My own money, not your money. You know what I’m saying? If I know.
Mongelli: But if we, the idea is if we do it, we’ll make you …
Mongelli: … front it. So it’s like you ah, what’s his name? Abrams, what’s his fucking name?
Reiter: Yeah, Abramson.
Mongelli: Hey, you say, “Listen, he … I want to get a landfill.”
Mongelli: “I want to take in this, you know, they’re shipping garbage to Pennsylvania here, there.”
Mongelli: “I got ah, I’m looking at a couple of pieces of property in upstate New York, I’d like to convert it, there’s no wetlands …”
Mongelli: “… there’s no homes around it. It’s an isolated area. I got cover material there.” Just …
Mongelli: … penetrate what I’m telling you.
Reiter: Right, I understand. I got you.
Mongelli: “So when I, I want to take it, and I want to put it in. And I got my friends, and my friend says … look, he’s Italian, you know …”
Mongelli: “… that fucking Italian right away, he … look, I’ll front it, they’ll fund me.” And, if we, if we get a permit, if you get this guy to okay it …
Mongelli: … you get the two hundred. If we’re dumping. When we get the fucking thing dumping.
Reiter: Dumping. You give me the two hundred.
Mongelli: Yeah, we’ll give him the, you the 200 to give him.
Mongelli: But, we got to get an okay because you have to fill out papers and this shit, they can go up there and throw it in the waste room, back-burner it. He’s got to accelerate it and approve it.
Reiter: Uh-hm. I understand.
Mongelli: So if he approves it, it’s worth 200,000. Ah, I’ll give you the 200,000, we’ll put it under your name – the landfill – we’ll give you the engineers, we’ll give you the bullshit.
Reiter: Right, right.
Mongelli: You front it, and then we’ll pull out the money and then we’ll, we’ll make extra papers on the side. And we’ll give you 10 percent of the gross. Whatever what the hell the … the net is, I mean … after expenses and everything else.
Act III: What was you talking about?
Reiter was never able to pull off the landfill scheme, but the feds and state officials got together and cooked up a more modest sting involving a payoff to a bogus DEC official. Mongelli eventually bribed the official for approval of a permit to open a 44-acre C&D dumpsite in Columbia County. The ensuing taped conversation that, incidentally, cuts poor Reiter out of the deal and inserts Olsen as the front man, indicates that Mongelli was behind the earlier LaMunyan C&D fiasco – but the feds weren’t interested in that aspect:
Mongelli: Tell him … in Columbia County …
Reiter: Let me write this down.
Mongelli: In Columbia County, I got a 44-acre site.
Reiter: That’s nice.
Mongelli: It’s on a farm, acre site.
Mongelli: Columbia. I’m working with the town now to get the okay, as a town permit.
Reiter: Forty-four-acre site, okay.
Mongelli: The guy that’s, the guy that’s with me is a, is with me, I’m partners with him. Forty-four-acre site. I want to bring in, not garbage … demolition. Strictly demolition. I don’t need no fucking permit for that. I need a permit …
Reiter: Like, like the one up, ah …
Mongelli: That we had over there that was closed.
Reiter: Yeah. Why did they close it?
Mongelli: Well, the guy that we was partners was fucked up. He created a problem with the town, he didn’t do the right thing.
Reiter: Oh, okay.
Mongelli: But I’m going to run the show myself.
Reiter: All right.
Mongelli: Not my name. I put Charlie Olsen involved. Not my name.
Reiter: No problem. Okay, that’s in Columbia County. That’s … Now, what’s the area that’s the other one? Is that Columbia County, too?
Mongelli: That’s Dutchess County.
Reiter: Oh, okay. Columbia area, 44-acre site. The guy that you’re with, ah, okay. But your name …
Mongelli: It doesn’t appear nowhere. Mr. Olsen’s name … Charlie Olsen. O-L-S-E-N … He runs under my company as “Modern Contracting Company.”
Reiter: M-A-R-T …
Reiter: Oh, Modern.
Mongelli: Modern. Modern Contracting Services, Incorporated, which shows that he owns all the stock. I don’t even appear there.
Mongelli: If he can get an okay on that, it’s worth 50,000.
Reiter: Okay. (Spoken unenthusiastically)
Mongelli: Why, what was you talking about?
Reiter: I thought more, but it’s okay. No, hey. You got to understand something. You said to me a while ago that I don’t have to get anything out of it because I’ll be involved.
Mongelli: That was a garbage dump. This is a debris dump.
Reiter: Oh, okay.
Mongelli: Here’s what we do. If you get the okay …
Mongelli: … you get the okay on the whole 44 acres, there’s a hundred thousand. And the hundred thousand will only be paid when we got the fucking permit in writing. No fucking flim-flam shit. When that permit is in writing on the whole 44 acres, and we’re working … and we’re doing the right thing, we’re going to have, and do it the right way, cover … we have everything there, there’s a hundred thousand in green. You can tell him, “Here’s seventy-five, here’s 50,000 for you in green” … you keep whatever the fuck.
The above sort of scenario has been playing out all over the Northeast for decades. As one particular way of doing business gets difficult, the garbage mob adjusts, doing what it must to hold up its end – to keep the toxic waste stream flowing, no questions asked. From landfills to C&D dumps to incinerators to thinking regionally and nationally, to burying it in graveyards, nothing matters except finding cheap places to put it all.
Same Shit, Different Day
As a reporter living in Dutchess County, I have over the past three years done an insane amount of work trying to compile and publish a complete rundown of toxic waste dumps in the Mid-Hudson area – including how they got there. It is an impossible job, as it seems like I discover a newly confirmed waste dump or a highly suspect site almost every other day. The bulk of the problem is due to unprincipled, greedy operators like the Mongellis, Milos, Ianniellos and Rattennis, who don’t care whom they poison, including themselves and their children.
Another large portion of it can be traced directly to the shoddy past practices of IBM, which has cleaned up its act to the point that it no longer handles its own toxic waste distribution – and has learned the hard way not to entrust its toxic effluvium to the run-of-the-mill garbage mob either, after having been burned in a number of government suits involving poisoned landfills. However, the company still produces the lion’s share of toxic waste generated in the Mid-Hudson region, and the stuff has to go somewhere. Just where is a question I’m in the midst of trying to answer – there will be more on this subject later.
Most toxic waste dumping in New York State is done right under the sadly decimated, legendarily inept and historically corrupt nose of the state’s Department of Environmental Conservation. Although sprinkled with individuals who try against all odds to do a stand-up job, so many of the agency’s dwindling, overworked staff have so often been identified as willing targets of bribe money that the DEC’s credibility and reputation as a watchdog of the public good were already in tatters, even before Pataki gutted it and took away any teeth it might have had left.
For example, in the early 1990s, DEC Lieutenant William Bubenicek, one of the DEC’s top cops, was convicted of taking bribes from the operators of the Prisco Landfill in Putnam County. When he was caught he claimed he was running a sting operation trying to catch bad guys, but he and his wife Brenda were later found to have been depositing hefty checks into the bank account of a company called Bright Sites – around the same time the dump opened. Brenda Bubenicek, incidentally, is still a records access officer in the DEC’s Region II office in New Paltz – making decisions as to which public records to release to you and me.
Even as far back as the ’70s, the pattern of behavior of far too many DEC officials led to the general impression that they were on the take. In one of many examples in Poisoning for Profit, Block and Scarpitti tell how the DEC ignored repeated requests by Rockland County Deputy Sheriff Stanley Greenberg, one of the very first footsoldiers in the toxic wars, to monitor environmental problems at a particular mob-owned landfill. “He did, finally, get one of their engineers, Richard Gardineer, to go with him to the dump,” wrote Block/Scarpitti. “Upon arrival, he instructed Gardineer to take examples of the leachate running out of the dump into a brook feeding into the Ramapo River, water which eventually became part of the water supply for northern New Jersey. Gardineer refused, saying it didn’t appear as though the leachate was causing any problems. Yet when Greenberg provided several jars in which to take samples of the run-off, Gardineer refused to put his hands in the water. Faced with Gardineer’s squeamishness, Greenberg took the samples himself and gave the sealed jars to the engineer. Later, when Greenberg asked for the test results, he was told, somewhat disingenuously, that since neither preservatives nor refrigeration was used to protect the samples from contamination, they could not be tested.”
If one can get by the Brenda Bubeniceks, a lot of info on toxic dumps is buried in files at the DEC. The agency’s skeletal site status reports, even after having been heavily edited during the Pataki years to eradicate strong language and minimize the nature of problems, are still perhaps the clearest window into the degree of the ongoing waste dumping problem in the state. Other info comes from the pages of government actions brought against dumpers, and still more data comes from eyewitness accounts, old news stories, EPA websites and leaked FBI files.
What follows is a selected sampling.
Big Blue’s Toxic Legacy
Everywhere IBM has ever set up shop, severe toxic problems have followed. It would take an article twice this length just to do a small paragraph on each. However, a few of the company’s legendary feats of environmental destruction bear repeating here.
In an old, heretofore unknown and unpublished case, an IBM representative named “A. Krueger” wrote a response letter in June of 1985 to William Sullivan of the DEC that highlighted some of the company’s dubious practices of yesteryear. “In response to your request for additional information concerning past disposal practices for re-conditioning process waste at Fred Scoralick’s farm in Beekman and Karl Ehmer’s farm in LaGrange, IBM is submitting the following details.”
Scoralick is the recently retired longtime Dutchess County sheriff, a position upon which he built an empire of daunting local political power. He is a tall, striking man with a craggy Robert Mitchum demeanor and a great pompadour of slicked-back Elvis hair. The “process waste” that was disposed at his and Ehmer’s farms in 1976 and 1977 was actually PCB-laden oil, lubricating oil and ink mixed with industrial detergent and water, fished out of a filled-to-the-brim 5,000-gallon underground holding tank on two occasions. The sludge was the waste from the cleaning and re-conditioning of used keypunch machines containing leaky capacitors – the source of the PCBs. “Jerry’s Sanitation Service removed all of this material (five loads) between October 1976 and February 1977 and landspread it on Fred Scoralick’s farm,” wrote Krueger. Five more loads were dumped on the Ehmer property between March and July of ‘77.
In Ulster County, IBM has had a number of major problems through the years. Along with Ford Motor Company and Golden Books, IBM was named as a co-defendant in the federal case against the dump’s owner, Dutchess Sanitation (a.k.a. Matty “The Horse” and his crew), for the illegal toxic sullying of the old Hertel landfill in Plattekill. The company was hit with millions in fines.
In 1992, IBM signed a consent order with the state DEC to clean up a hazardous waste Superfund site at the Mead property in the town of Lloyd, after it was determined that dichloroethylene and other VOCs dumped there had their origin at the company’s Kingston plant.
A portion of the now-closed Kingston IBM plant, currently the home of an industrial park where hundreds of clueless temps process New York State tax returns each year, remains on the books as an EPA-listed hazardous waste site, primarily due to the company having once used it as a hazardous waste storage facility and transport staging area.
Of the 34 state “superfund” sites in Dutchess, IBM has been officially deemed responsible for six, although the total sites actually containing IBM waste is probably much, much higher. They are:
• IBM’s main plant areas located in the Town of Poughkeepsie between Route 9 and the Hudson River, which have been undergoing cleanup and monitoring of toxic chemicals for some time. According to the DEC, the company has confirmed that groundwater in the area is heavily contaminated with industrial solvents. Several areas have been remediated, with more planned, and the site is under a continuous monitoring program.
• Five areas beneath IBM’s other large facility in East Fishkill, where remedial programs are underway to eradicate or contain confirmed groundwater and soil contamination. According to the DEC report, “various volatile halogenated organics” have been found, and “early off-site releases from the facility contaminated several private wells.”
• IBM’s Neptune Road facility, where it was discovered in 1981 that a holding tank was leaking halogenated solvents into the ground 2,000 feet upgradient from Casper Creek. The tank and contaminated soils were removed in 1985, and a “pump and treat” system was installed in 1993. In April of that year IBM successfully petitioned the DEC to reclassify it as a class 4 site. According to the DEC’s report: “The site is properly closed but requires management.”
• A site on Route 55 in the Page Industrial area, where according to the DEC report: “IBM and two previous tenants (Daystrom Co. and its successor, Weston Co.) had dumped waste chemicals in two areas …” from 1955 to 1969. IBM partially cleaned up the site, but subsequent monitoring failed to indicate any improvement.
• Two hangars at the Dutchess County Airport, one of which is operated by IBM, and the other by Command Airways. Groundwater “plumes” laden with discarded VOCs (from previous dumping of compounds used in aircraft maintenance into the leach field) are migrating toward an IBM on-site drinking well. The airport is adjacent to Wappinger Creek.
• Oil and solvents routinely hosed into the drywell of a maintenance building at the old IBM Country Club (now the Casperkill Country Club) until 1987 have been cleaned up and disposed of.
Down in the Dumps
Twenty-eight other hazardous waste sites in Dutchess County have identifiable current or former owners who are being required by the DEC and EPA to pay for cleanup. Some of these dumps are really bad, creating far-reaching, long-term environmental effects. The worst of these sites, in no particular order, are:
• The mob-run FICA, or Dutchess Sanitation, landfill in the Town of Poughkeepsie received municipal waste from 1971 to 1983, and was shut down following a huge fire in 1984. Leachate containing arsenic, lead, mercury and volatile organic chemicals (VOCs) seeped out of the pile, flowing into the adjacent Blandings Turtle Pond wetlands area. Capped in 1994, the old landfill now sports a “gas collection and large flare system” designed to eliminate noxious odor complaints from nearby residents. A former worker at the landfill reports that waste gas emanating from the shitpile was piped into metal huts filled with “gas-eating bugs” that grew huge and fat on their noxious diet before being collected and killed. According to the DEC report, “odor complaints have almost completely ceased.” Thankfully, no neighborhood sightings of roving, fist-sized gas-eating bugs have been reported.
• In Amenia, town and state officials are still grappling with the long-delayed cleanup of a grassy 10-acre tract on Route 22, where an untold number of rusting, leaking 55-gallon drums filled with PCB-laden toxic industrial waste have been festering since they were buried there, reportedly in the late ’60s and early ’70s. Twenty of the suspected barrels were unearthed by the firm of Conrad Geoscience, hired by the DEC to conduct phase II testing. Until 1998 when I was researching an article about the site, town officials were apparently unaware of the DEC’s having classified the site as class 2 five years earlier. According to the DEC report, “results showed PCB contamination in 15 of 20 soil samples collected, at concentrations ranging from 2.3 to 250 mg/kg. In addition, PCB contamination was detected in three of five sediment samples and one of five surface water samples obtained from the wetlands area adjacent to the site.
The site is owned by a man named John Segalla, Amenia’s leading citizen, who owns Amenia Sand & Gravel and who operated the recently closed and capped Amenia Landfill. Adjacent to the landfill, he also built the Island Green Country Club, which he sold a few years ago to a character named Francis Zarro. Segalla’s attorney for the closing, as well as for most everything else, was none other than George Pataki’s Peekskill crony, William Florence, who made a splashy appearance with Zarro as he spouted big promises that Amenia would soon be a major resort community where, according to Florence’s pep talk, property values would go sky high. For a while everything was great – concerts and shows and a big party for the local state champion football team that was crashed by Al D’Amato, who knew every GOP pol there by name. After a disastrous year at the helm, however, Zarro’s bankrupt company, New Deal Projects/American Pastime Holdings, left nearly everyone in Dutchess County holding the bag and almost destroyed the venerable Hudson Valley Philharmonic Orchestra – which had signed on for the previous summer season after Zarro failed to wrest the New York Philharmonic from Saratoga. Incidentally, Zarro’s attorney during all this was Poughkeepsie political operator David Sall, whose only other noteworthy client was Bill Raucci – the dead federal witness found floating in the Hudson River. Sall was the last person to see Raucci alive.
• Also in Amenia, on Benson Hill Road, is the Sarney Farm, a major illegal toxic waste dump in the ’60s. This federal Superfund site has quietly been undergoing remediation by the EPA since 1987. So far, 1,232 55-gallon drums and 16,891 small containers containing 17,050 gallons of toxic waste (toluene, dichloroethane, vinyl chloride, acetone and xylenes, among others) have been removed from a five-acre portion of the site, along with 120 tons of contaminated soil.
• Jones Sanitation on Cardinal Road in Hyde Park, which also has the dubious distinction of being one of only three EPA Superfund sites in Dutchess County, was a repository for all kinds of septic and industrial wastes from the 1960s until May 1979. In addition to metals and solvents (primarily from the old DeLaval plant on the Hudson), the company accepted waste collected by “commercial scavenger firms.” Adjacent to the Maritje Kill wetlands and awash with trichloroethylene, lead, phenol, methylene chloride, chloroform, trichloroethane, benzene and napthalene, the site has yet to be remediated, although a waste consolidation and capping plan has been proposed.
• On Charles Colman Boulevard in Pawling, adjacent to the Swamp River and its wetlands, a parking lot of the Pawling Rubber Company covers a former landfilled area swimming in toxic chemicals. Until the early 1970s, construction materials, blocks, scrap rubber, and scrap machinery were dumped there. A hydrogeological study paid for by the company has confirmed contamination of the surficial aquifer with chlorinated solvents – tetrachlorethylene, trichlorethylene and toluene. There is a public well a quarter of a mile away on Corbin Road.
• The now-closed Town of NorthEast Landfill received commercial, industrial and municipal wastes for more than 20 years. The list of waste solvents found in a groundwater monitoring well installed in 1984 is so extensive it would take the remainder of this article to describe them. Contamination has spread to adjacent wetlands.
• The abandoned Schatz automobile plant in Poughkeepsie in 1986 was discovered to be an illegal toxic dumpsite, replete with 55-gallon drums leaking PCBs, toluene, ethylbenzene and xylenes into the ground. The drums, along with 8,200 cubic yards of PCB-contaminated soil, have been removed, but further remediation is necessary.
• Between 1935 and 1973, a five-acre landfill at the old Schatz Federal Bearings site on Van Wagner Road in the Town of Poughkeepsie was filled with about 125,000 yards of PCB-rich industrial and municipal waste. Much of this was detritus from factory operations, and included grinding sludges, metal filings, broken grinding wheels, metal washers, twine, burlap, solvents, coolants and sawdust mixed with oils. Although the site has been remediated in a manner “significantly reducing groundwater contamination,” groundwater contamination still exists, with leachate flowing toward nearby Casper Creek.
• The former site of Tau Industries, from 1972 to the mid-’80s a neighbor of IBM in Page Industrial Park, has been monitored by the DEC for years in an effort to find the company at least partly responsible for orange-tinted leachate – full of VOCs – seeping from the property into Wappingers Creek. The DEC, while not entirely convinced of Tau’s claim to have been contracting disposal to a licensed hauler, hasn’t pressed the issue due to the confusion created by similar leachate from IBM next door.
• The Hudson River Psychiatric Center, built atop six separate landfill areas, apparently has never had trouble from any of these. However, for 20 years it did have a thorny problem from very high PCB contamination spreading into a nearby creek from somewhere on the property. The problem has been traced to an electrical transformer room in one of its buildings. Before remediation was completed early this year, PCB levels of 360 parts per million were detected in creek and wetland sediments.
• In the Town of Poughkeepsie, right down the street from the Psych Center (above), something awful (a “dense, non-aqueous phase liquid”) is oozing along the bedrock beneath the former Western Publishing site. Other contaminants, in the form of chlorinated solvents, have “migrated” into the shallow groundwater beneath the site from somewhere else. However, the DEC is not sure where any of this comes from, and has made a preliminary decision to “delist” the site without performing any sort of remediation, as it is considered industrial anyway. This is good news for Home Depot, which just opened a superstore on the property. A permanent, unbelievably bad smell that no amount of blacktop has been able to choke off permeates the entire area.
Beekman, the Heart of it All
Which, finally, brings us to the little town of Beekman, the unlikely nexus of much of what has been related above. The town, a pie-shaped wedge tucked like an afterthought into the Taconic Hills of southeastern Dutchess County, is embroiled in a crisis involving toxic chemicals alleged to have been illegally disposed of in and around its town garage from the 1980s to the early ’90s.
In most towns, a crisis like this would have been over and done with long ago. The DEC would have been brought in by the town, a deal would have been struck, and the site would have been cleaned up. However, Beekman is not, and never has been, an ordinary town. A rural center of Dutchess County GOP political power to rival the corruption-plagued Town of Poughkeepsie, Beekman has been home to a number of political heavy hitters, including former sheriff Fred Scoralick and the town’s former supervisor, Evelyn Heady. A large woman with an incongruously small voice, Heady was nonetheless, by all accounts, a stellar Pataki fund-raiser who has been amply rewarded with three plum jobs in his administration – the first being a $69,500 post at the Hudson River Psychiatric Center that she moved into just as 2,000 mental hospital jobs were being eliminated around the state. In that position she purportedly served as liaison between the Psych Center and the Dutchess County business world she knew so well from fundraising, finding jobs for the mentally impaired. During this stint she remained in Beekman as its supervisor, but in mid-1996 when the town’s toxic waste scandal hit the fan she was airlifted out of there to Albany, where she was inserted as chairwoman of Pataki’s Environmental Facilities Corporation under ESD Capo Gargano. She was later bumped to a less stressful post as chairwoman of the Labor Department’s Industrial Review Board.
Beekman is also home to a number of players in the hazardous waste materials transportation business, including William Calogero, owner of Cal 7 Transport (whose wife Patricia Campanaro is a Republican Beekman town board member and the law partner of Dutchess County IDA bigwig Michael Tomkovitch). Richard Nolan, Beekman’s recently deposed GOP town supervisor is, not coincidentally, the senior vice president of Roe Movers, which has the current contract with IBM to move its hazardous materials. Roe is housed in a number of large warehouse facilities, all convenient to IBM sites (a former Roe warehouse – built with tax-free IDA dollars – was adjacent to the IBM Kingston plant as well). At least two of the warehouses are built atop old toxic waste dumps – one of these is actually rented from the Town of Poughkeepsie, which houses its police department and court facility in half of the building. People working there complain of bad smells, headaches and dizzy spells, and both the DEC and the EPA are apparently on the case, with Roe named as a potentially responsible party. In March 2000, the newly elected Poughkeepsie town board finally started to act, hiring the firm of Conrad Geoscience to test the air quality in the building; results are not yet in.
The police court/warehouse building was originally built by Thomas and Betty Espie – crusty veterans of mid-Hudson toxic dumping who turn out to be the very first owner/operators of Roe Movers (not without a sense of humor, they had originally dubbed it “Amorphous Movers”). The building they built and subsequently sold to the Town of Poughkeepsie for $5.35 million, with its history of shakedowns of contractors by Raucci, Andros and others during the $2.5 million retrofitting for town use – was the focus of the federal case against William Paroli, Sr. But the fact that Raucci is a dead river rat and Andros compromised his federal testimony by allegedly co-murdering his mistress and shooting his chin off put a big hole in the case, which was presumably why Paroli got off so lightly.
Too Much Salt
U.S. Congressman Maurice Hinchey, one of the more successful and high-ranking paranoiacs in American life, claimed in a February 1998 speech in Beekman that “hundreds of thousands of gallons” of toxic chemicals were dumped in the town, as part of a “vast conspiracy by organized crime.” Whether or not one believes this is true, as early as 1992 it was determined without a doubt that residential wells in the Beekman hamlet of Poughquag were contaminated with high levels of trichloroethane.
How town officials responded to this contamination – going to incredible lengths to avoid proper investigation of town property, destroying evidence, denying access to records, spending millions in public money to bring in a small army of Governor Pataki’s Westchester-based legal associates to fight and claw and obfuscate at every step – might lead one to believe they were trying to hide something, even if one didn’t know the facts.
But the facts in this toxic mess, as hard to follow as they are, remain facts. They’ve been there all along waiting for someone to try and explain them. The record – all eight file drawers of it – shows that from 1968 onward, residents living near Beekman’s highway garage have been crabbing about their water. Repeatedly, until mid-1992, it was routinely determined by county and state officials that, in one way or another, the problem was due to the town’s improper storage of road salt, which would wash into the aquifer when it rained. Road salt commonly contains more than just sodium chloride; it’s usually laced with ferrocyanide to reduce caking. Sodium chloride is not good to drink, as every sailor knows. Cyanide is worse.
In April of 1992, the first incidences of volatile organic compounds (VOCs) were detected in Poughquag wells by Morris Associates, the engineer hired by Beekman in October 1991 to get to the bottom of the salt problem. One of these compounds was 1,1,1-trichloroethane (TCA), a chlorinated industrial solvent that has absolutely nothing to do with road salt. Initially TCA was found in only one well at a somewhat significant 15 parts per billion, above the state’s maximum contamination level (MCL) of 5 ppb, requiring notification of the DEC, but far below the federal EPA’s MCL of 200 ppb.
Accordingly, the Dutchess County Department of Health, the DEC and town officials were notified, and Morris went back to do more testing. So far, so good.
Evelyn Heady’s politically juiced Town of Beekman and her friends at Morris Associates, a wired environmental consulting firm with a hotline into the office of every GOP power broker in Dutchess County, maintained a cozy relationship with the county health department and the DEC. The EPA, however, was a different matter. Notifying them of a significant problem would invite the possibility of a federal investigation.
On May 1, 1992 Morris regrettably detected such a problem. Along with a healthy dose of cyanide, 200 parts per billion of TCA was detected in a residential well – exactly enough to require alerting the dreaded EPA. However, the EPA was not alerted, and the bad news was conveniently left out of reports filed with the DEC and the state health department. Worst of all, the residents weren’t notified that they had TCA and cyanide in their water. Although in September 1992 the county health department got around to confirming to the town that VOCs were officially present in the drinking water, the omission of the 200 ppb result effectively kept the EPA at bay for 20 months, ensuring that town officials need only deal with their buddies at the DEC and the county DOH.
Covering your Ass
For years, a blizzard of paper flew back and forth between Evelyn Heady in Beekman, Daniel Eaton and other officials at the DEC, Cesare Manfredi at the Dutchess County Health Department, and then-state senator George Pataki, all apparently to create a public record that would reflect some kind of progress while in actuality nothing at all was being accomplished to get to the bottom of Beekman’s problem:
• In April 1992, Heady notified the DEC that the town would be providing bottled water for its Poughquag residents and building a new salt shed. Nothing was said about checking for contamination at the highway garage. A DEC “water program specialist” responded that these would be “acceptable temporary measures,” but that the salt shed better be up by Nov. 1, 1992 and “long term measures to remediate the affected wells should be considered by the Town of Beekman.” Ouch.
• In November 1992, the DEC got around to directing Beekman to install a ground monitoring well, and in December advised them that town property was being classified as a “Potential Inactive Hazardous Waste Site,” and that the state would be poking around looking for evidence of hazardous waste disposal.
• Also in November, Manfredi of the county health department revealed that the agency had failed to find any evidence of chemical contamination on the town highway property. Of course, the county’s sampling was conducted with the help of town officials, who could easily have thrown them off the track. In fact, later investigations by an independent contractor show that none of the county’s tests were done in spots where significant pollution was eventually located. Manfredi did identify a potential source of contamination – the nearby old Beekman landfill – and recommended that a monitoring well be set up there (but nowhere on town highway property). His reason for this was that the old landfill “could not be eliminated as a potential source because it was not accessible.” Huh?
• In February of ’93, DEC officials met with the town to talk about who would conduct a “preliminary site assessment (PSA);” resulting in the town declining to participate, due to the anticipated $75,000 to $200,000 price tag. With tongue firmly in cheek, the state announced it would begin its PSA field investigation in the spring.
• Meanwhile, in anticipation of the town’s building a new salt shed, a town consultant (a firm called “Enviroscience” that is actually Susan Morris of Morris Associates) and some DEC folks dug test pits to check for evidence of buried waste. They found nothing.
• The month of May ’93 brought the bad news that the state was just kidding about doing a preliminary site assessment investigation – the DEC canceled the study without explanation. At the same time, as footings were being dug for the new salt shed, massive salt contamination was discovered which was, unbelievably, left in place.
• Heady made sure to bitch loudly about the PSA delay to Eaton at the DEC, also making sure to wait a month to do it. “I was very disappointed to hear from our engineers, Morris Associates, that no additional work has been performed in the Poughquag Hamlet by your office and further that no further investigations have been scheduled for the site in the foreseeable future,” she wrote.
• In August 1993, after another month and a half, Eaton wrote Heady this terse reply, which suddenly and inexplicably switched the focus of the proposed Beekman “investigation” away from the highway department to a nearby closed landfill: “The Town of Beekman Landfill is under investigation for the existence of hazardous waste disposal. No field work has been scheduled to date beyond that conducted March 3, 1993.”
• Waiting until mid-September this time (an additional month and a half later), Heady found time in her busy and wildly successful GOP fundraising schedule to fire off another missive to Eaton: “Based upon your August 6, 1993 response to my June 18, 1993 letter, our engineers, Morris Associates, contacted John Swarthout to obtain a response as to when the field investigation would begin.” She concludes that “it would appear most likely that the field investigation would not start until at least 1994.”
• Late in 1993, George Pataki was still a state senator whose district included Beekman and much of Dutchess County. However, he had just been tapped by Al D’Amato to be the GOP candidate for Governor, and it is obvious from the record that Heady already had significant influence with him. On Dec. 2, Pataki apparently contacted Eaton (the letter is missing from the DEC file) to chide him into responding to Heady. In a follow-up to Eaton on Dec. 8, Pataki added his mock indignation to the mix: “… the ambiguity which remains in the status of this situation is troubling. Based on your response of 12/7/93 I understand it will be a year and a half after notification before the investigation begins. When and if the contamination is determined to be the result of the disposal of hazardous waste it will then be placed on the state’s registry of inactive hazardous waste disposal sites. Experience tells me if that site is listed a similar time frame for remediation will occur while the scope of work and contract for remediation is being prepared. I find this prospect simply unacceptable. Residents of the town cannot wait three or four years from its discovery to have this contamination rectified.”
As it turns out, “Pataki the Prescient,” with an uncanny ability to both add and tell the future, was right about it taking a long, long time. In actuality, six full years later, nothing yet has been done about the contamination on Beekman town property, even though it has been proven beyond a doubt that hundreds, if not thousands of gallons of TCA and PCE are oozing along the aquifer beneath the highway department. In fact, the DEC in March 2000 announced that it would most probably decide to leave all the poison right where it is, now that the Poughquag residents are hooked up to a spiffy new water system. And despite proof that the contamination was deliberately perpetrated by at least one town official as part of a criminal, for-profit enterprise – despite the fact that a federal grand jury investigation has been all over Beekman like a soggy blanket – no indictments have ever been handed up.
What George Pataki didn’t mention in his indignant letter to his soon-to-be-employee Eaton was what a good job he was doing. Because at the behest of Heady a passel of Pataki’s closest Westchester cronies were at that very moment cooking up big plans to put the lid on Beekman’s burgeoning toxic waste scandal.
A Civil Action
At this point in the bureaucratic nightmare, the poor citizens of Poughquag had had it up to here. A number of them were already getting sick from their funny-tasting water, and they had appealed for months for help – to their town mothers and fathers, county legislators, state assemblymen and senators, and the DEC. Their fervent pleas were met with bottled water – and a proposal in mid-1993, hatched by Heady’s town board, to build a million-dollar central water system and bill the handful of families for the entire cost: up to $3,000 per year per household for 20 years, completely out of range for some of the more elderly among them.
This indignity may have been the last straw. The pissed-off citizens had become, in the best age-old tradition, paranoiacs – convinced that the public officials who had turned a deaf ear to their problems had something to hide. They asked around, and found someone willing to help. And, for a while at least, Kimberlea Shaw Rea, Esq. seemed to be just what the doctor ordered.
Rea, of the White Plains firm of Bleakley, Platt & Schmidt, was retained by the ragtag band of Poughquag citizens in November of 1993. It may or may not be just one more ridiculous coincidence, but Rea simultaneously happened to be representing the interests of Alfred “Nick” Rattenni, Jr., the adopted son of the deceased mobster “Cockeyed Nick” who is now an officer in Waste Management, Inc., which in the mid-’90s bought out his carting company, A-1 Compaction. It remains unclear who initially recommended her to the citizens of Poughquag.
Regardless of conflicting affiliations, she went right to work, requesting a meeting with the town to discuss her clients’ problems and hiring John Conrad of U.S. Hydrogeologic, Inc. (later known as Conrad Geoscience), to do a little poking around of his own, looking for evidence of toxic dumping on town property. In his preliminary research, Conrad – in direct contradiction to the “findings” of the DEC and the county health department – determined that the probable sources of the aquifer pollution were salt storage and waste disposal practices at the highway garage. Duh.
Rea’s and Conrad’s task was not an easy one. Councilman Peter Barton – an apple farmer who has been a continual thorn in Heady’s and Roe Movers boss Richard Nolan’s GOP administrations, especially regarding the well poisoning issue – says that between November 1993 and January 1994, Heady’s board illegally hindered the Poughquag citizens’ group’s access to town records. And Rea’s overture to the town to conduct a cooperative effort – including the citizens’ offer to pay half of the $5,000 to $10,000 cost of water testing on town property – was summarily dismissed, with the town denying any responsibility and blaming the nearby county highway facility and others for the pollution. Of course, the town did everything it could to keep Conrad off its property, especially when DEC and other inspectors were around.
In March of 1994, a desperate Heady wrote a letter to Pataki beseeching him to pull some strings to get state money to set up a water district, hoping to get the clamoring Poughquag citizenry and their blasted consultant off her back. State pork was tapped out, however, and the lowly, hamstrung Pataki was not yet Governor.
Undaunted, in April of 1994 the citizens of Poughquag filed a suit against the town seeking redress and cheap town water, which triggered a small avalanche of Hatfields vs. McCoys-style counter-suits:
• The town, which from 1990 to 1993 had enlisted Pataki’s firm of Plunkett & Jaffe as “Beekman Special Counsel” to perform various labor-related legal tasks presumably out of the range of Town Attorney Kevin Denton’s expertise, retained the services of Richard O’Rourke, formerly of P&J but now of Keane & Beane (P&J’s Siamese twin, counsel to the mobster Thomas Milo and the mob-run Al Turi Landfill), as “Special Counsel (Environmental)” to defend it in the citizens’ lawsuit and come up with a counterattack plan.
• In June, the town answered the citizens’ complaint and filed a counter-suit against Dorothy and Douglas O’Dell, two of the Poughquag citizens who happened to run a septic company.
• Then in September of 1994, the town sued all the likely businesses in the neighborhood – Jack Horner’s Automotive Export, Inc., Thomas Horner, Edna Horner, Marianne Horner, Poughquag Auto Wreckers, Inc. and Charles Green – trying to pin the blame for the aquifer pollution on them.
• In answering the town’s charges in February of 1995, this last group turned around and sued the O’Dells and each other, just in case.
• The whole shootin’ match was resolved in April 1995 when the citizens settled with the town and all the claims and counterclaims were dismissed. On top of payment of fees for Rea and Conrad of around a quarter of a million, the citizens got a paltry $20,000 and the promise of a central water system they wouldn’t be billed $1,000,000 for. It seems that, with the strength of their case, Ms. Rea could have held out for a better deal for them – even the loser attorney played by John Travolta in the film “A Civil Action” got the toxified folks of Woburn, Mass. a better deal.
Incidentally the Town of Beekman, which passed up as “too expensive” an earlier offer by the citizens of Poughquag to share the $5,000 to $10,000 cost of water testing on town property, had spent more than a million taxpayer dollars fighting them – only to ultimately admit responsibility by settling. Of course, in Heady’s eyes much of the money hadn’t actually been wasted. About $600,000 of it went directly into the hands of politically wired consultants and about $400,000 went to the new Governor’s king-maker friends at Keane & Beane.
Back at the ranch
Naturally, before, during and after the period of the trial, the kind of ass-covering, foot-dragging and obfuscation mentioned earlier continued unabated, with the Town of Beekman now ably abetted by the folks at Keane & Beane. For their part, the citizens had to make do with Mr. Conrad nipping at the edges of the problem, harassing the opposition and slowly amassing evidence of a major problem being systematically covered up.
In February of ’94, Conrad discovered documents in the town hall proving that Morris Associates had, 20 months earlier, found cyanide and 200 ppb of TCA in a Poughquag well, and the town had neglected to tell anybody. He relayed this information to the state department of health and the DEC, both of which, true to form, took no action.
Sneaking around inside the highway garage during March, Conrad discovered some illegal drains – “waste injection wells” – thus realizing his dream of getting the EPA involved. Ed Khadaran, an EPA inspector, cited Beekman for the illegal drains, ordering the town to plug them up, as well as to perform groundwater monitoring in disposal areas and submit to the EPA five years’ worth of detailed records of waste handling, storage and disposal.
Sure thing, Ed, right away.
Also in March, just prior to the citizens’ lawsuit coming down, Conrad submitted to the DEC the location of the former “tar pits” at the highway garage – surface depressions used for disposal of paving waste and, possibly, waste solvents. He also gave them data indicating the town was about to permanently cover up what he had discovered was a waste disposal area with a new garage addition. Conrad requested the DEC to either conduct PSA soil and groundwater sampling immediately or halt the construction. Again, the DEC took no action.
In fact, in May the DEC announced once again (and again with no explanation) that the PSA investigation was being postponed indefinitely. This time, however, they had at least come up with an ass-covering “PSA workplan,” which is maddeningly comical in its studied avoidance of the problems at the highway garage. “Possible sources of the contamination include an old landfill area reportedly behind the town garage and a used parts service located on Route 7,” the author wrote in the introduction, before explaining how, at some time in the distant future, the firm of Camp, Dresser and McKee would be drilling monitoring wells and taking soil gas samples at points as far away from the highway garage as possible. The “workplan” goes even further in explaining what won’t be done: “Due to the nature of the site, and the random nature of disposal, no geophysical surveys are planned at this time.”
In June 1994, with the lawsuit backing him up, Conrad was finally able to perform a proper inspection of the highway department property, and he struck gold. He found numerous illegal waste disposal drains and – via ground-penetrating radar – evidence of buried drums, and confirmed his suspicion of on-site disposal of solvents including perchloroethylene by the pole barn. Once again, the EPA was called in, and ordered the town to close and remediate the drains – through which liquid automotive waste had been discharged.
On June 16 Kimberlea Shaw Rea fired off a warning to the town’s Keane & Beane attorney, Richard O’Rourke, emphasizing the fact that she, Conrad, the EPA and a lot of other people were aware of what the town was about to do – cover up the evidence of illegal toxic waste dumping with a construction project.
“Last evening I was notified by several of the citizens that, after regular working hours, several town employees had commenced excavating several trenches behind the ‘pole barn’ (metal highway garage building),” wrote Rea. “We believe this area to have been used for drum storage and disposal; the soil we sampled at the perimeter of the recently installed concrete pad was heavily stained and odorous. John Conrad went to the sight (sic) last night with my client, Bob Phillips, and noted oily liquid substances oozing under the concrete pad; heavily stained soils in the pit (which had been excavated where we sampled); and a strong petroleum odor.
“All this transpired after I called you yesterday afternoon to ask for a response to my letter of June 14, 1994 requesting the town to defer its construction project until the extent of the subsurface contamination at the town highway garage project can be determined,” she continued. “You said that the town would not defer its project, scheduled to begin July 1, 1994, but that we could sample further if we wished to do so until construction began. As I told you, that does not solve the problem of evidence that will be destroyed during construction. … We have now discovered point sources of hydrocarbon contamination (which the town did not notify USEPA, NYSDEC or the citizens about). To go forward with construction on July 1 will destroy evidence necessary to determine proper measures for remediation of the aquifer.”
A Well-Oiled Machine
But once again the town, its attorneys and the state acted in stunning synchronicity to contain the damage from Conrad’s revelations. Throughout the summer of 1994, large-scale construction projects were completed that resulted in the removal, obliteration, and covering up – with concrete, pavement and buildings – of the following evidence: the tar pit area, drum burial locations, petrochemical waste disposal locations, underground storage tanks and contaminated soil. Despite a long letter from Conrad outlining the problem, Eaton and the DEC didn’t bother to monitor any of the excavations or check out any of the allegations. And on July 7, a meeting was held at the DEC in Albany where Conrad and Rea made their case to Eaton and his gang, and some folks from the state department of health.
Despite being presented with Conrad’s preponderance of evidence showing the highway garage to be the source of aquifer contamination, the state didn’t budge an inch, refusing to classify the site or designate the Town of Beekman as a responsible party until the town’s hazardous waste disposal could be “confirmed.” Instead the state, apparently taking its cue from the town’s response to the citizens’ lawsuit, delineated a bizarre plan to try and implicate everyone else in the area – the Horner Auto Export business, Poughquag Auto Wreckers, the O’Dell septage disposal business, a residence where a Safety Clean truck was reportedly parked one day, and a former printing and wood refinishing business.
While agreeing that checking out surrounding properties was a good idea, Conrad argued that the state’s PSA workplan was doomed to failure; with its five monitoring wells and soil gas points placed around the perimeter of the town property, it was guaranteed to be inconclusive – especially by completely ignoring confirmed waste disposal locations smack in the middle of town property. He expressed bafflement with the DEC’s omission of basic PSA tasks such as records review, geophysics, soil boring/logging and test pits. He said that if U.S. Hydrogeologic tried to perform such an omission-riddled study for a client, it would be sued for negligence.
Eaton challenged nearly everything Conrad said, even suggesting that the buried drums encountered by his firm’s ground-penetrating radar tests were probably boulders. He and Marino said that the sketchy DEC “workplan” (which, as has been mentioned, was not scheduled to be implemented any time soon) had been set in stone back in January, and that no changes were possible. And besides, mewled a state health department toady, if the town were found to be responsible for non-landfill contamination, it would be automatically disqualified from receiving coveted EQBA funds. How would they pay for the clean-up?
The answer, unfortunately, would be by charging the same taxpayers who are paying for the town and its high-powered flunkies to cover the problem up.
In August, citing 60-plus test results performed over a two-year period, the town’s Siamese twin consulting firms, Morris Associates and Enviroscience, wrapped up their investigation by announcing that there was absolutely no evidence of town responsibility in the sullying of the aquifer. At the same time, the DEC again postponed its “set-in-stone” PSA investigation, without explanation.
House to house search
Here’s where things really started to get weird. From Nov. 14 to Nov. 17, 1994, representatives from a new set of town environmental consultants, Lawler Matusky and Skelly, accompanied by Keane & Beane attorneys, conducted Kafka-esque searches and sampling of Poughquag citizens’ basements, garages and yards, looking in vain for signs of hazardous waste disposal. They performed the exact kind of geophysical surveys, including searching for buried objects, that the DEC refused to conduct on town property where buried objects actually were.
A few days later they all traipsed out to Poughquag Auto Wreckers and the Horner Export business and did the same thing – not finding anything there, either. In December they finally got around to sampling soil and groundwater on highway garage property, immediately finding waste solvents in the groundwater at spots Conrad had told them about a year before. The total testing in November and December ended up costing town taxpayers in the neighborhood of $200,000.
Despite these findings by their own consultants, in January 1995 town officials enlisted the county health department in backing up their assertion that the Poughquag aquifer was polluted by the citizens’ own septic systems.
DEC to the Rescue
At the end of April 1995 the Poughquag citizens’ suit was settled – actually “dismissed with prejudice,” meaning that the Town of Beekman officially had to own up to its role in the contamination. Accordingly, the DEC immediately changed its spots, classifying the town garage (not the old landfill!) as a “Class 2, Priority 1 Inactive Hazardous Waste Disposal Site” – exactly what newly-elected Governor George Pataki had feared so long ago when he was just a state senator. For the first time, the Town of Beekman was named by the state as a “potentially responsible party” in the toxic mess.
This started another year-long round of bureaucratic bumfoolery that included considerable monkey business over the proposed water system, a much-ballyhooed interim water filtration and well-monitoring plan that never materialized, and the continued foot-dragging by the town’s Keane & Beane attorneys and the DEC over what should have been routine tasks:
• In November ’95 the nearly forgotten firm of Camp, Dresser & McGee submitted its long-awaited PSA findings to Dan Eaton.
• Two days later the DEC issued a “consent order” to the Town of Beekman, which when signed meant the town was officially admitting culpability and had to do something about it. In this case it meant only that Beekman would have to voluntarily perform additional site investigations and remedial measures, and propose to the DEC what the scope of its eventual “Remedial Investigation/Feasibility Study” (RI/FS) should be – something like leaving the wolf to guard the henhouse.
• The DEC also was trying to get the town to consider instituting an interim water filtration and well-monitoring plan. The filtration was deemed necessary because of worries that residents were breathing toxins released by hot water during bathing and cleaning, and because elderly folks complained of having to drive to the town hall all the time to pick up bottled water. O’Rourke requested some kind of assistance from both the DEC and the state health department, but came back with the sad news that his request “fell on deaf ears.”
• In January 1996, Eaton (what a surprise) divulged that he was less than thrilled with Camp, Dresser & McGee’s report, calling it “incomplete” and forecasting another long delay during which he would have to “edit” it. It’s no wonder, seeing that the DEC sent the poor slobs to the wrong site (the landfill) in the first place. Incidentally, the town hadn’t yet signed the consent order, but it had issued a request for proposal for the new central water system design.
• On Feb. 2, Eaton claimed he was still “rewriting” the PSA report. “It’s not as complete as I’d like,” he said once again, adding that it would take another week or two. On the 28th, yet again Eaton said he wasn’t done and the “rewrite” would now stretch into April 1996.
Also on the 28th, Samara Swanston, a rare no-nonsense DEC attorney assigned to the Beekman case, was becoming convinced that the Beekman situation smelled like rotten eggs – she had by now heard the stories of how chemicals were dumped by town officials taking kickbacks from the mob, and ascribed to the cover-up theory. She voiced her impatience with O’Rourke’s stonewalling in processing the RI/FS consent order scope, nailing him to the wall and privately accusing him and the town of “foot-dragging” and “going political.” Annoyed, O’Rourke bargained for more time, saying the town needed to discuss and authorize consent order language. The town claimed it was waiting for the availability of EQBA funds that Swanston knew they’d been told they wouldn’t be eligible for.
The next day, Bill Ahlert of Lawler Matusky and Skelly admitted that he was participating in Eaton’s PSA “rewrite,” and a few days later the real reason for the delay in both the PSA report and the town’s “foot-dragging” was explained, as O’Rourke confirmed that the town had no intention of proceeding with consent order negotiations until the PSA report was finalized. He said the town had objected to the draft PSA report when it was first submitted, citing misstatements and errors of fact, and had asked the DEC for the report to be “cleaned up.”
By this time Swanston, an African American firebrand drowning in a sea of whitewash, was hopping mad and ready to fight, and irritating O’Rourke like nails on a chalkboard. On March 6, she again voiced her displeasure with the failure of the town to negotiate the consent order and, at the urging of Conrad, took up the cause of interim water filtration and well testing, saying that if the town couldn’t do it the DEC would. On March 8 she kept her word, issuing a consent order for Interim Remedial Measures (IRM) to O’Rourke and the town, having obtained the cooperation of state health department officials to back her up.
At the same time, she also issued what was to become her undoing – a strongly-worded “statutory information request” that demanded to O’Rourke and the town that they submit all records of storage and disposal of hazardous waste and hazardous substances, and get actual highway personnel to answer all kinds of very specific questions about highway department procedures and practices, on a comprehensive, multi-page questionnaire.
Upon receiving the above two items, O’Rourke went ballistic. “Your letter … is a departure from the position heretofore taken by DEC and DOH that an Interim Consent Order need not be issued,” wrote O’Rourke, decrying the harsh measures described if the IRM consent order and the statutory information request were somehow to be ignored by the town. He then requested an immediate meeting between Swanston, himself, high level DEC staff including Eaton and Cesare Manfredi, who due to his great Beekman-related work at the county health department had been rewarded with big a job in Pataki’s DEC as “acting regional director,” Kim Evans of the state health department and a guy from the EPA.
On the 25th of March, 1996, Swanston found out that her friends at the state department of health had “caved” on the question of the IRM consent order for water filtration and well monitoring for Poughquag residents – she blamed the Governor’s office for intervening on behalf of the town. That may or may not be true, but Richard O’Rourke did bill the Town of Beekman for the time taken for a March 18, 1996 call to his former law partner John Cahill, the general counsel of the DEC who would within weeks be personally firing pesky Samara Swanston and ascending to the commissioner’s post.
Just kidding, folks!
But first, there was a meeting to attend to which would alter the case forever. The March 25 powwow ended up being held in Tarrytown, attended by Swanston, Eaton and three other honchos from the DEC; Kim Evans and one other person from the state DOH; Evelyn Heady and attorney Kevin Denton from the town; O’Rourke and Nicholas Ward-Willis from Keane & Beane; and two town consultants – R. Friedman and Bill Ahlert of Lawler Matusky and Skelly. Pointedly uninvited were John Conrad, Kimberlea Shaw Rea or anyone from the citizens’ group.
The meeting was a disaster for Swanston, outnumbered at least 12 to one (apparently one other DEC official, Keith Browne, was African American – it is unclear whether he was an ally of Swanson’s or not). The town representatives got their way and the IRM consent order was withdrawn, replaced with a cheesy, toothless “memorandum of understanding.” Swanston held her own on the statutory information request, however. As it was a commonly used procedure by the DEC, there was nothing they could do about it – yet.
The racial undertones contained in the above paragraph may seem odd until you know what happened next. Inserted in a sheaf of papers distributed by Friedman to each member of the meeting was a sheet containing the following racist “joke”:
“There was a little black boy watching his mother cook dinner. He took some flour and put (it) on his face and said ‘Look mommy! I’m white!’ His mother slapped him and said ‘Go tell your father that.’
“The boy went into the living room and said ‘Look daddy! I’m white!’ His father then slapped the shit out of him and said ‘Go tell your grandpa that.’
“The boy shamefully went to his grandfather and said ‘Look grandps (sic), I’m white.’ The grandfather proceded (sic) to beat the living hell out of the boy and said ‘Now boy what have you learned from this?’ The boy replied ‘I’ve only been white for 5 minutes and I already hate niggers!’”
Swanston Goes Down Swinging
Swanston confronted Friedman and O’Rourke, who denied knowing how the “joke” got there. Heady sent a letter to the meeting attendees apologizing for the racial slur, and the story made its way into the local paper, which had filed a freedom of information request with the DEC for the “joke.” Charles Sullivan, Swanston’s immediate boss, told her to release the documents from the meeting, including the “joke.”
Nonetheless, Swanston was blamed for the “leak” of the offensive document, and taken off the Beekman case. Not long after, she was fired by Cahill.
She later filed a civil suit against Pataki, Cahill, Keane & Beane, the DEC, Beekman and others involved in her demise. She was successful, settling out of court. Apparently part of the settlement was a promise to shut the hell up, because she’s not talking anymore.
However, in her lawsuit, Samara Swanston said plenty:
“• Throughout the negotiation process, members, agents, employees and representatives of Keane & Beane repeatedly indicated to plaintiff (Swanston) that they could exert political influence to end the DEC’s investigation as well as the plaintiff’s efforts to force the town to comply with Superfund law.
“• Defendant Sullivan, plaintiff’s immediate supervisor, told plaintiff that counsel for the town (O’Rourke) ‘had called Mr. Cahill, as they had political juice.’
“• Defendant Sullivan informed plaintiff that Keane & Beane members and/or representatives were repeatedly contacting defendant Cahill, the newly appointed general counsel, apparently to hamper plaintiff’s investigative and prosecutorial efforts.
“• One or more Keane & Beane members, employees, agents or representatives also contacted the (state) department of health to inform that they knew defendant Pataki, and, accordingly, would exert pressure to change the department’s ‘mind’ on the drinking water filter issue.
“• As an additional result of the town’s attorneys’ pressure, one or more of the defendants ordered defendant Sullivan to observe plaintiff’s negotiations, oversight to which other managers had not been subjected (particularly in matters of routine compliance), and to which plaintiff had never been subjected prior to the Town of Beekman affair.”
Samara Swanston was railroaded out of town by the Governor and his friends for trying to do too good a job in Beekman, and got paid for the train ticket, in return for her silence. She would be the last bureaucrat to bother.
Mr. Smith Goes to Beekman
The perfect man for the job of finding out how the Town of Beekman’s toxic waste problem happened in the first place, Arthur Woolston Smith, on loan to the Beekman saga from central casting, is an avuncular, Hitchcockian gentleman who came out of British Intelligence. A longtime hired sleuth for the state legislature, he was tapped by Hinchey, his boss at the legislature before becoming a U.S. Congressman, to check things out in Beekman after the citizens of Poughquag had bum-rushed Hinchey’s district office in early 1996, pleading for help. Hinchey trusted Smith’s dogged persistence and ruggedly unbribable, unthreatenable demeanor – Smith had investigated everything from Watergate to Love Canal to a series of successful mob-busting cases for Hinchey’s former toxic waste committee. He was and still is known affectionately in the gangbuster trade as “Smitty.”
According to Smitty, the Beekman mess came about as part of an elaborate scheme involving a mob-tied operator named Daniel Luongo and an associate named “Fat Pat.” In 1990 Luongo, owner of a number of bogus chemical companies based in Danbury, Conn., pled guilty to federal mail fraud and conspiracy charges as a result of a similar scheme conducted in the towns of Amenia and East Fishkill in which he was paying kickbacks to highway superintendents for buying undelivered chemicals. He ended up with a light sentence, and is apparently back in business. Smitty maintains that Luongo’s chemicals were delivered, but were actually toxic waste that ended up being dumped somewhere.
Operation Double Steal, a push by the feds to investigate mob-influenced kickback schemes in town halls and highway departments across the region, was introduced with great fanfare in 1987. Concurrently, Beekman was struggling with its own internal investigation of highway department “purchasing irregularities,” noticed by then-supervisor James Dankelman. According to a 1996 statement by Dankelman-era town board member and ’96-era supervisor Evelyn Heady (in an attempt to refute public accusations made of chemical dumping at the garage having been due to a kickback scheme), Dutchess County DA William Grady was alerted in 1987 of Beekman’s potential problems by Town Attorney Kevin Denton.
The feds’ operation was flawed from the get-go. Despite the fact that it’s almost unheard of for federal authorities to allow politicized local law enforcement types involvement in their investigations, Grady had somehow gotten himself on the Double Steal bandwagon, and announced that he’d take care of investigating Beekman, using local state police. However, although Luongo’s kickback scheme was in as full force in Beekman as everywhere else, the town somehow magically escaped the feds’ noose. “Grady never named Beekman,” says one insider.
At any rate, Luongo wasn’t just a small-time corrupter of public officials, and he was no chemical salesman either. His actual occupation was getting rid of toxic waste for the mob. His favorite modus operandi was to double-dip – to get paid twice for the 35- and 55-gallon drums he was unloading – once by the customer trying to get rid of them and again by a public official to whom he would offer a kickback in exchange for his or her municipality “buying” them.
He had a lot of “customers.” Beekman’s former highway superintendent, Bob Clark, told Smitty of his being invited along with dozens of highway supers from towns up and down the Hudson Valley on an all-expenses-paid bus junket to Giants Stadium, arranged by Luongo.
During his frequent digging in town files, rogue Councilman Peter Barton had stumbled upon the receipts eventually linked to Luongo’s kickback scheme, and had given copies to Smitty. And whose names were signed on the receipts for bogus chemicals bought from Luongo’s “firms,” most of which were nothing but Post Office boxes? In addition to Bob Clark’s, Smitty found numerous Danbury Chemical (Luongo) and Duso Chemical (Luongo) receipts for deliveries of chemicals signed by Evelyn Heady and John Lynam, both town board members at the time. Many of the ones “signed” by Clark were obvious forgeries. Clark always signed his name “Robert Clark,” and the bogus receipts were signed “Bob Clarke,” with an erroneous “-e” tacked on the end.
Clark was filling in as “interim” highway super for a short period in the late ’80s after Ed Millus had quit (according to one insider, not wanting to participate in the fledgling kickback scheme). In the ensuing election, Lynam won the job in a landslide and lasted until 1999, when he was ousted amid allegations of corruption. He had faced charges of “felony eavesdropping” on his employees earlier that year after state police, acting on a tip, found a tape recorder in the break room. “Clarke,” as his name is misspelled on nearly every official and legal document produced by Heady, Lynam and O’Rourke leading up to the citizens’ trial, quietly left office, and has moved out of town.
The Rag Test
During the course of his burrowings, Smitty encountered highway foreman Bruce Trenchard, who in February 1996 had been questioned by federal and state investigators to tell what he had witnessed regarding toxic waste dumping at the garage. EPA investigator Reginald Blue and DEC investigator Kenneth Cole conducted a series of interviews of highway employees – at the highway garage within earshot of Lynam and other highway personnel. Trenchard says the other highway employees expressed fear of retribution if they told what they knew, and kept quiet.
But Trenchard surprised them and began to talk about what he had seen, which was plenty. Blue and Cole wrote down little of what he said, closed their notebooks and concluded the interview without comment. They were later seen talking with Lynam. In June 1996, Cole and Blue again interviewed highway employees – this time without Trenchard. In a July 1996 letter to Hinchey about Beekman, Steven Herman of the EPA wrote: “… investigators in Region 2 previously interviewed potential witnesses. However, none of these witnesses provided any evidence to substantiate claims of criminal conduct.”
Hearing this, Smitty set up a session for Trenchard to spill his guts before a notary public, getting it all down on paper. The existence of this legendary document filtered through the town grapevine and out to the highest levels of the DEC, and it suddenly become an elusive, highly coveted Holy Grail for Blue and Cole to obtain at all costs. Smitty maintains they needed the document to try and find inconsistencies between it and statements Trenchard made at the highway garage.
What Trenchard apparently said in his statement is the same thing he’s said on a number of occasions, to the consternation of many who would like the Beekman problem to slip quietly into history. The nut of it goes like this:
Early in his employ at the highway department, until about 1975, Trenchard says he witnessed department employees routinely transporting waste oil obtained from the Arborio construction yard in Poughkeepsie to the highway garage yard where it was mixed with soil, which was then stored in piles on the bare ground. This stuff was occasionally spread on town roads, along with the highway department’s own waste oil.
During the “Double Steal” days of 1987, Trenchard, who had already been garage foreman for 10 years, was interviewed by two state police investigators, but as yet had no knowledge of anything odd going on at the highway department. He did say he knew of drums, purchased by interim superintendent Bob Clark during the summer of 1986 from Danbury Chemical, and that Clark had ordered several sets of storage racks for 55-gallon drums, and had put them in the pole barn. Trenchard also had the opportunity at the time to verbally order items – approved by either Clark or other town officials – from Danbury Chemical salesman “Fat Pat.”
Near the end of ’87 (during the Double Steal investigation), Trenchard claims dealings with Danbury Chemical stopped cold (this is when bogus receipts with company names like Duso Chemical, all later traced to P.O. boxes taken out by Luongo, started appearing in town records).
From mid-1986 until 1990, Trenchard says the highway department received shipments of drums, all of them stored initially in the pole barn. The number of drums fluctuated, as some were delivered and some were taken away, but Trenchard recalls that the number of drums far exceeded normal usage for highway operations. Some of them had “Danbury Chemical Co.” stenciled on them, and many were labeled “Flammable,” “Toxic,” and “Hazardous.” Trenchard often wondered where some of the drums – especially ones he had been told to order – were disappearing to.
Trenchard says that Lynam, some time after being installed as highway super, ordered highway employees to remove 30-odd drums stored inside the pole barn, ostensibly in preparation to have a concrete floor poured. He also had the as-yet hardly used storage racks destroyed, which Trenchard found particularly odd, being that it was the only way one could have kept track of them all. The drums, many of them open, were moved outside where they sat for a couple of years, corroding, leaking, and overflowing with rainwater onto the bare ground – a condition Trenchard reported to Lynam. “Every once in a while you’d go out there and there was a real strong pesticide odor,” says Trenchard. “Somebody had taken the bungs out of the holes and stuff was coming out with rainwater, and Lynam knew it. The bottom started rotting out of the barrels.”
Then in the early fall 1992, right after the news came down that the county health department had confirmed the well contamination with VOCs, Trenchard says that Lynam suddenly ordered three of his employees to get rid of the mess, starting with the now infamous “rag test,” in which a rag was dipped into a drum and then lit to see how fast it would burn. If the stuff was considered flammable it was, according to Trenchard, poured down a drain unto an underground tank. If the rag didn’t burn, the contents of the drum were either dumped out onto the ground kitty corner from the pole barn, or taken away to an off-site location.
According to former highway worker Eric Buckley, who sustained a chemical burn during the process, Lynam ordered the rag test because “he didn’t want (a) chemical reaction from the chemicals mixed together that caught fire on the rag.” Smart guy.
Trenchard says he was also subpoenaed by the federal grand jury investigating the Beekman scandal in 1997, and that his testimony was taken by an FBI agent. “What they were concerned about was the dumping at the highway garage,” he says.
Trenchard claims that ever since word got out about his notarized statement, he has been harassed by Cole and his partner, Steve Wagner. According to Smitty, the two burly DEC “investigators” are actually former corrections officers who work out of Cahill’s office on special assignments like Beekman. “Cole and Wagner were here busting my chops, wanting a statement on their stationery – notarized,” says Trenchard. “They had a copy of a letter I had written to Dick Nolan wanting to know what he was going to do about things.
“Blue was the same way,” says Trenchard. “The first time he came was after I wrote a statement (Trenchard was updating his original) on October 16. At 8:30 or 9:00 in the morning, he’s calling me from John Lynam’s office, saying: ‘You have to give me a copy of that statement.’ I told him I had a doctor’s appointment.
“At 11:30 I’m sittin’ there, and there’s Blue pounding on my door – his coat’s off, all guns and badges – I didn’t answer, and he puts his card in the door,” says Trenchard. “At 3:00 he calls and threatens to arrest me if I don’t give him a copy of the statement. I tell him ‘I don’t have to give you shit. The proper authorities have it.’ Once I told Smitty what happened, he stopped coming around.”
Until Trenchard fell out of favor with Lynam for having talked about toxic waste dumping with the FBI, he was the working foreman of the highway garage, largely responsible for driving trucks and heavy equipment and supervising other men. “Once he found out that I had talked to the feds, that’s when everything went downhill,” says Trenchard, a hulking man with a seriously bad back, injured in 1984, that Lynam suddenly began to test by having him do heavy physical labor – loading tires, climbing a ladder to paint the underside of a fuel island, spreading dirt around aimlessly, and so on. “He put me on disability on June 20, 1997, and I never went back. I had quite a fight to get Social Security Disability. My lawyer Dennis Kenny in Newburgh went to court – Lynam was there and fought the whole thing. … Thank God my wife’s still working at IBM or I’d have lost the house.”
Taking the Fifth
In November of 1994, Eric Buckley was officially deposed by Rea and O’Rourke as part of the civil action brought by the citizens of Poughquag against the Town of Beekman. Between multiple declarations of “I refuse to answer that question on the grounds I may incriminate myself,” Buckley managed to squeeze in quite a story, nicely corroborating everything Trenchard says – despite having been coached for hours by O’Rourke, who was trying to save Buckley’s boss Lynam’s neck by having him hang everything on Clark. No rocket scientist, Buckley had a bit of trouble following O’Rourke’s directions, and the resulting testimony was pretty funny.
“The drums came in, big time, when Mr. Clark was in office,” said Buckley. “To me he went chemical-happy. That’s what everybody called it. He went chemical-happy.”
Asked how many drums were delivered , Buckley said: “I couldn’t give you a specific on how many drums were delivered on an individual time. All I can say is, when they were done being delivered, there was a lot of them.”
Waving his arms, Buckley said: “From this end of the building, from one end of the building to the other end, we had them all lined up, barrels, the whole side. Some were on top of each other. They came out and lots of the barrels would be put on pallets, and eventually the pallets eroded, and some of the barrels would tip over and everything else. Then, it got to the point, it was becoming a real mess. Clark got these barrel holders. He bought enough of them so that he was going to put the barrels on. He bought them but never got around to putting the barrels on. … It was a long thing that would be put together that had, you know, indents, grooves, where you could lay the barrels in a holder, like an egg carton.”
Asked if he thought chemicals were in the barrels, Buckley answered: “In my opinion, I can’t give you facts. I know that I have got a scar on my hand from one of the drums and stuff. … It is still there from five, six years ago, where one drop on my hand. … (Showing his scar to Rea) That’s from one little drop.”
Rea then asked: “How did that happen? You were unloading a barrel?”
“I refuse to answer that question on the grounds I may incriminate myself.”
Then, answering Rea’s question about whether the substances in the barrels were used by the town, Buckley said: “They were tried to be used, but a lot were so damn potent you couldn’t get near them. They would burn the shit out of your eyes. Some were flammable. We didn’t know what they were. You didn’t know.
“One time, I tried to get a barrel open, and I took it into the shop, and I took a torch and tried to cut it, and he (Clark? Lynam?) said, he said ‘What are you trying to do? Kill us?’ Lord knows what could have been in the barrel.”
Resolutely taking the Fifth Amendment every time questioning got around to his role in the dumping of toxic chemicals and who told him to do it – even though it was a civil case and he had blabbed the whole story in public the night before at a Beekman Town Board meeting – Buckley comically gave away much of what Rea was trying to establish anyway:
Q: Did you make a statement (at the town board meeting) that ‘Bob Clark instructed me to dump thousands of gallons of chemicals at the property’?’
A: Absolutely not. I won’t answer. I refuse to answer the question on the grounds it might incriminate me. I don’t know where thousands of gallons came from. I refuse to answer that on the grounds it might incriminate me.
Q: Is it more like hundreds?
A: I refuse to answer the question on the grounds it might incriminate me. Let me – I know what you are trying to get at. There were thousands and thousands. There was more than 3,000 gallons at one time stored behind this building. Yes, there was.
Q. More than 3,000?
A: Yes. I will say that Mr. Lynam disposed of properly – I would say about, well, go with half. I think I am being generous either way.
Q: You are saying that prior to Mr. Lynam’s disposal of 1,500 gallons of chemicals –
O’Rourke: Objection as to form. …
Q: … Fifteen hundred gallons of other chemicals were disposed of?
A: Yeah, and I am being generous in saying Mr. Lynam got rid of 1,500.
Q: They were disposed of into the ground?
A: I refuse to answer on the grounds it might incriminate me.
At the time the loose cannon Mr. Buckley was testifying, Kimberlea Shaw Rea was already involved in talks with O’Rourke to settle the citizens’ suit. Besides Buckley there was a long line of witnesses scheduled to testify. Next up, in about 10 days, was Evelyn Heady, whose testimony, whether she told the truth or not, would have been golden. However, in anticipation of the suit being settled all further depositions were canceled, and we’ll never know. What we do know is Heady had no intention of testifying on that particular occasion. She had, it has been discovered, scheduled elective eye surgery for that very day – missing a town board meeting that night because of it.
Upon Heady’s removal to bigger and better things by Pataki in 1996, the Town of Beekman’s fabulous GOP machine went all to hell, at least temporarily. A temp puppet supervisor, Barbara Zulauf, was installed, but she couldn’t even win the next party caucus against used car salesman Jack Davito, who became the Republican candidate in the special election to fill Heady’s enormous shoes. Democrat Duane Smith, an ordained minister, beat Davito and Zulauf (who ran as a write-in, splintering the GOP vote) in the fall. The board was still overpopulated with resolution-killing Heady cronies until mid-’97, when one of them quit and another croaked. A couple of independent thinkers were somehow elected, and Smith’s new majority kicked out the town’s knee-jerk consultants, hired Conrad as town engineer, and re-opened the toxic waste investigation that had been languishing for yet another year.
Conrad wasted no time. He knew the Smith board probably wouldn’t last past the New Year; the GOP was already getting itself back together with County Legislator Jim Sproat leading the charge to put the reliable Roe Movers honcho Dick Nolan in the hot seat. For the rest of 1997 Conrad was all over the town property running tests like a banshee, the nasty results of which exceeded his wildest dreams. Out by the pole barn, where everybody and their brother said “hundreds, if not thousands of gallons” of toxic waste was dumped unceremoniously under orders from a panic stricken John Lynam in the early ’90s, Conrad found an enormous plume of perchloroethylene (PCE) percolating in the ground, with a pattern of contamination that showed how it had sifted down into the aquifer after being poured on the naked ground above. Too recent a dumping to show up in bulk in anyone’s wells yet, it would be a monster of a problem to be reckoned with down the road. Conrad got his damning results together in the nick of time, and as Nolan and a slew of other GOP yes-men and women took office in January 1998, he plopped his report on their desks.
Of course, they and the DEC ignored it, and the board told him to cease and desist, picking up in obliterating the trail where Heady left off. Somehow Conrad was allowed to hang on until August, getting paid for being hogtied, until the board kicked him out and brought back rubber-stampers Lawler Matusky and Skelly once again.
On June 4, 1996, John Lynam answered Samara Swanston’s “statutory information request,” presumably having been aided considerably by O’Rourke (phrases like “de minimis spills” and “upon information and belief” keep popping up in the document). Besides conflicting in every way with Conrad’s and Smitty’s findings and the testimony of Buckley and Trenchard, Lynam’s response is notable primarily for one paragraph of his long answer to Question 8, which asks how, when and where the town disposed of its hazardous waste and hazardous substances. (Note: The document in my personal possession is a heavily annotated copy defiled by someone who, from the content of his or her scribbles, apparently knows all about Beekman Town Highway Department procedures, and who has embellished it – on almost every paragraph – with the circled, handwritten word: “LIE.”) Lynam’s admission of off-site storage of toxic chemicals – something he never mentioned before – was probably made because, only weeks earlier, he had been forced to accompany renegade Councilman Peter Barton on a field trip to the town “kennel” building on Pleasant Ridge Road, where Barton had heard drums were being kept. Drums were full or partially full, most with no labels and many with “OK” spray-painted on them. One was labeled “Armortex – flammable, petroleum distillate.” The “kennel” was constructed with floor drains. Lynam said the chemicals were all purchased during the Bob Clark era, and that, although he hadn’t a clue what was in them, he had tested them using the infamous “rag test.” He claimed the flammable liquids had been poured from the drums into a tank (it seems virtually everyone is agreed on this), whereupon they were hauled away by the aptly-named S&M Waste. Non-flammable liquids, he said, were transported to the Pleasant Ridge “kennel.” (Eric Buckley must have thought this act was highly illegal, having pled the Fifth.)
At any rate, Lynam’s subversively annotated paragraph reads as follows:
“When the present highway superintendent, John Lynam, began his first term in 1988, there were probably fifteen (15) 55 gallon drums of “chemicals” stored in the pole barn. (Note: The number “15” is circled, with the word “LIE” written next to it.) Upon information and belief, these drums were purchased by Lynam’s predecessor, Robert Clark, for general use in the highway department’s daily operations. Although the contents of the drums were generally known, (e.g. soap solution, weed killer, etc.,) (Note: These last parentheses are followed by the circled word “LIE.”), the precise constituents of each drum were not known. Superintendent Lynam took measures to dispose of them after characterization. Flammability of each drum was determined by highway personnel. Those materials determined to be flammable were consolidated in the waste oil tank. Attached hereto as Exhibit “D” is the invoice for that removal. The remaining drums were removed from the facility and placed in a concrete containment pen in the garage at the Pleasant Ridge Landfill pending possible future use. The town has currently contracted with a duly licensed hauler to dispose of these materials at a licensed disposal facility.”
Whoa, Nellie! This was evidence, and here the town was making plans to have it carted away before anyone could look at it and test it completely. A small number of the drums had been tested by the town to see was in them, and according to one source: “Some of it was so hot they couldn’t tell what it was – it was off the scale. They figured a lot of it was hazardous, and rather than do more testing, they agreed to pay the highest possible price to get rid of it – they just assumed it was all hazardous. It was going to cost $40,000.”
Another source states categorically that the drums in the “kennel” were not part of any “rag test” scenario at all – that they were happily ensconced in the main highway garage in 1994 when Morris Associates was performing its investigation. Bruce Trenchard, says the source, remembers helping Susan Morris inventory them – she needed him to move them around. According to the source, the town, Keane & Beane and Morris Associates misled the EPA about the smoking drums, and they were moved out of sight to the kennel. “The EPA was manipulated by Keane & Beane into not seizing the drums as evidence,” says the source.
Inside man Peter Barton got wind of the town’s plans to dispose of the evidence and contacted Congressman Maurice Hinchey, who tried his best to stop it. Hinchey fired off a long letter to EPA bigwig Carol Browner, whose New York regional office had recently closed its investigation of the Beekman matter, reportedly due to its fear of being held accountable for the alleged actions of Investigator Blue.
After explaining the entire sorry mess as best he could, Hinchey wrote: “This week my staff was notified that potentially important and relevant evidence is slated for removal from a Town of Beekman warehouse, for incineration in Pennsylvania. …The importance of the drums … is clear. … Several questions demand answers. Are the newly identified drums the same as those purchased with public funds which created the state hazardous waste site? Who is responsible for the receipt of the two dozen drums on behalf of the town, and where did they originate? Are the materials in the drums the same as the contaminants in the underground aquifer? After so many years, why is the town suddenly so interested in disposing of the chemicals?”
Good questions all, Maurice.
But, of course, he never got his answers, because – following a second cursory inspection with an expanded cast that included Kathleen Gallagher from the EPA, Hazardous Waste Inspector William Buskey and a couple of other DEC officials, and Bill Ahlert from Lawler, Matusky & Skelly, the drums were spirited away without being tested further. Before being hauled off, according to Barton, the labels were spray-painted over, in a last-minute attempt to obliterate any possible chance that someone would find out where they came from. And it was O’Rourke who gave the order.
The DEC’s Buskie, another rare straight-arrow in the Swanston mold, was livid. So were Hinchey, Conrad, Smitty, Barton, and all the other sad crusaders in this lost cause. Because the bad guys had just won another, decisive round. Sure, a federal grand jury investigation was gearing up, the feds agreeing that evidence Smitty had amassed was worth a proper look.
But Beekman’s federal grand jury investigation has been stalled for quite a while now, since Lynam and Heady were dragged down to White Plains – with late-blooming criminal specialists Viglotti & O’Neill in tow. This little-known Wappinger-based law firm has seemingly come out of nowhere to become the defender of choice for a wide variety of politically juiced potential felons, including Poughkeepsie’s chinless Lothario Fred Andros and his alleged trigger girl, Dawn Silvernail. The team ably represented Lynam in getting his felony eavesdropping charge reduced to a misdemeanor. Where did they come from? How did their name get around so fast? In Dutchess County, as in every other shire of New York State, you just have to wonder.
No doubt Viglotti & O’Neill and the firms stocked with Pataki’s closest associates – Plunkett & Jaffe, Keane & Beane and Finnegan & Mignano, among others, all of whom have for whatever reason chosen to represent the little town of Beekman so well in the past – are continuing as you sit reading this to cater to the mutually beneficial, intricately linked desires of themselves, the garbage mob, fine local GOP political machines like Beekman and Peekskill and Island Park, successful businessmen and women, and Governor George Pataki and his ever-widening circle of friends. They will protect their mutual secrets, fight their mutual enemies, and make millions off their mutual problems, as they always have, and probably always will.
John Lynam, now out of a job, will presumably be able stop worrying about getting caught – he might even relax and do some fishing. The busy Evelyn Heady is already making phone calls for George W. Bush, and anticipating that next big career move. All charges will be dismissed, all water will flow under the bridge. The aquifer will clean itself.
Not that this is any comfort to Poughquag resident Bob Phillips and his late wife Shirley, the citizens whose property was closest to the town garage, and who lived their entire adult lives in that location, bathing in and drinking their well water. Shirley worked for the town, right next door, for many years. Theirs was the well that was first to show “negligible” amounts of PCE in Morris Associates’ tests, and was the first to reach the magical 200 ppb TCA result that set the whole Beekman crisis in motion.
Except, by the time the Beekman crisis began, Shirley was already dead. She had retired early, in her late 50s, and went with Bob on a trip of a lifetime to Hawaii. They had to cut their trip short, though, because Shirley was bleeding internally. Six tragic weeks later she was dead, of liver and bladder cancer – the very same diseases that PCE causes in rats.
Shirley Phillips, however, was not a rat. She was a human being, a warm, loving country sweetheart who trusted in her government and her fellow man and felt safe in her cozy little small-town world. “Beekman killed my wife,” says Bob Phillips, who netted just over $1,000 from the Poughquag citizens’ settlement – not even enough to replace his corroded appliances. “Beekman killed my wife.”