Of the many insults that come with living in one of the highest-taxed regions in the country, where indictments of public officials on corruption charges seem almost commonplace, news last week of a law enforcement effort called “Operation Pay Dirt” only added to an already long list of red flags about life on this island.
On Monday, Suffolk County District Attorney Tim Sini revealed what to our mind is a staggering act of greed, announcing a 130-count indictment charging 30 individuals and nine corporations with involvement in a massive illegal dumping ring.
Properties owners across the region — including in Calverton, Baiting Hollow, Flanders and Greenport — were among the many victims. These property owners were offered “free screened clean fill” that was actually toxic and hazardous solid waste, containing such things as arsenic, lead and mercury. And the allegedly guilty parties couldn’t have cared less about the damage, short- or long-term, to the landscape or people’s health.
Of the many charges in the indictment, several covered endangering the public health, safety and the environment. It is not hard to imagine the fear now afoot in some households about what’s in their backyards or was dumped in the woods near their home, where their children play.
“Operation Pay Dirt” covered 24 different dumping sites, 21 of them in Suffolk County. Of these, 19 were at the homes of people who answered an ad offering free, cleaned fill. If those indicted are convicted, they should rot in an upstate prison for the damage they have done.
Among the local cases, according to Mr. Sini, is this one: On June 13, 2017, a nursery on Sound Avenue in Calverton received fill from one of the indicted parties that contained two acutely hazardous materials: the pesticides dieldrin and aldrin.
“It’s bad enough to dump solid waste and dangerous material in someone’s front or backyard, given the dangers that it poses to children and others,” said Mr. Sini. “But what’s even worse here in Suffolk County is that we live on an aquifer where we get our drinking water …”
This latest dumping scandal is nothing new on our island. Recall a number of years ago, when a large-scale illegal dumping operation was uncovered in Roberto Clemente Park in Brentwood. Another of the dumping sites was a six-home subdivision in Islandia built for veterans returning from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
The dumping in the public park in a minority neighborhood in Brentwood resulted in a years-long closure of the park. It’s no coincidence the dumpers didn’t pick a park in, say, Sayville, or in a majority white neighborhood. They picked a Spanish-speaking community to inflict their poison on.
The charges and convictions that resulted from the dumping in Brentwood and Islandia showed the symbiosis between criminals and public figures who looked the other way and allowed the dumping to occur. Hold on to this thought for a moment: People on the public payroll allowed a public park to be poisoned.
If you want to pick up a legal pad and list all the grave threats to our democracy here on Long Island, public corruption should top your list — particularly the kind that poisons people.