(CN) – A New York appellate division limited the amount of restitution New York City can recover from companies that dumped debris instead of clean fill into a city development site, which the city has already paid $16.5 million to clean up.
Companies controlled by Frank, Anthony and Joseph Casalino in 1996 and 1997 allegedly paid more than a standard rate to dump smelly debris, which included asphalt and metal drums, into a site leased from the city for the planned College Point community sports complex. The site was supposed to have been filled with clean dirt and gravel.
The Casalinos refused an order by the New York Department of Sanitation to remove the unacceptable fill, so the city hauled off more than 200,000 tons at a cost of $16.5 million.
The county attorney in 2001 filed a 734-count criminal indictment against the Casalinos, to which they entered a guilty plea for a single environmental charge in exchange for dropping the rest. The plea also included a promise to pay criminal damages of up to $1 million per defendant.
In 2003, the city filed a civil action seeking to recover its $16.5 million under a crime-victim statute.
The Queens County Supreme Court allowed the city’s restitution claims to proceed, rejecting the Casalinos’ argument that they should be protected from civil litigation for a case in which they’d already been criminally convicted.
The 2nd Department of the New York Supreme Court’s Appellate Division disagreed in part, ruling that the defendants can invoke collateral estoppel to prevent re-litigation, but that the scope of such protection must be limited to Nov. 22, 1996, the date cited in the plea.
The requirement to pay restitution doesn’t preclude civil payments, although the amount of a criminal penalty must ultimately be deducted from any civil damages imposed, the court concluded.