Heights School hit in illegal dumping operation

Heights School hit in illegal dumping operation
An example of material used as evidence when tracking down "Operation Pay Dirt." (Photo courtesy of the Suffolk County District Attorney's office)

A pile of recycled concrete was deposited on Roslyn’s Heights School campus last summer, and in November those responsible were among 30 individuals and companies indicted as part of a sweeping response to illegal dumping on Long Island.

The pile at the school on Willow Street was immediately placed under 24-hour surveillance until it was tested and determined to be nonhazardous, said Barry Edelson, the district’s director of community relations.

Investigators came quickly to the scene, he said. They requested that the district not make a public announcement about the incident because it was part of an ongoing investigation. That investigation, “Operation Pay Dirt,” eventually resulted in a 130-count indictment in Suffolk County.

The district cooperated, though had the materials been toxic it would have informed the community early on, Edelson said.

The incident occurred June 11 when James Williams brought the load from Queens to Roslyn, according to the indictment. Frank Rotondo provided a truck from the company Modern Leasing.

The Roslyn school district had the pile covered with a tarp and cordoned off, Superintendent Allison Brown wrote in a notice to the community last month.

It then hired an environmental company to test the material and air. The school’s general contractor paid for the efforts, Brown said. The damage exceeded $1,500, according to the indictment.

The Department of Environmental Conservation asked the district to leave the pile but allowed it to be removed in July, Brown wrote.

Rotondo was charged with criminal mischief, conspiracy and operating a solid waste management facility without a permit. Williams was charged with transportation of solid waste without authorization and criminal facilitation.

Modern Leasing also faces charges.

Heights School was the only school where investigators found an illegal dumping site.  Four of the locations were commercial and 24 were residential. Only three were in Nassau County.

Six of the sites had acutely hazardous substances and 17 had hazardous substances, according to the Suffolk County district attorney’s office.

It was not until March that the Roslyn school district informed the community that the incident had occurred.

“The district was only indirectly and briefly involved in this matter, but because we have been informed that our instance is part of a wider investigation that may soon be made public, I wanted to take the opportunity to explain exactly what happened as it applies to the district and to allay any concerns for our community in that regard,” Superintendent Allison Brown wrote in the notice.

Newsday published an investigation into the operation, including a story about the incident in Roslyn, on Sunday.

The school district does not know why it was targeted, Edelson said.

“We have no idea,” he said. “We don’t know if it was random or if they were looking for a spot that was off the beaten path where they might not be seen. We just don’t know. As far as we’re concerned, that stuff showed up, we tested it, we took precautions, we got rid of it.”

At the time, the school, which teaches pre-kindergarten through first grade, was undergoing renovations.

The man at the center of the operation was Anthony Grazio, known as “Rock,” who coordinated the locations for the dumping, according to officials. One way he tried to find dumping sites was through Craigslist, where he posted offering free fill and free delivery. The operation circumvented fees that legal dumping sites require.

“Rock and the owners or operators of the trucking companies would discuss residential and commercial sites and the amount of material that could be dumped at a particular site,” Suffolk County District Attorney Timothy Sini said in a news release. “The bigger the property, the better for the defendants, as this scam was all about making money. When an ideal property was found, Grazio could often be heard directing his co-conspirators to ‘hit it hard.’”

Investigators used both electronic and physical surveillance to crack the case, officials said.

“It seemed like such a singular event, but obviously now that we know that such things are going on … certainly our contractors and construction managers and our own staff will be much more alert for anything like this in the future,” Edelson said.

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