By Alexander Dworkowitz
A Whitestone contractor pleaded guilty to illegally dumping demolition debris full of plumbing fixtures, glass and metal as fill for ballfields in College Point in a move that uprooted more than 1,000 Little Leaguers, the Queens district attorney said.
Benjamin Rastelli Jr., 47, who lives on 24th Road, admitted Monday to releasing solid waste into the environment and falsifying business records, Queens District Attorney Richard Brown said. Rastelli served as the operator of Enviro-Fill Inc., the Flushing company that dumped the fill on the planned College Point Sports Complex.
State Supreme Court Judge Randall Eng was scheduled to sentence Rastelli to three months in jail and $250,000 in restitution on June 2. Before the plea bargain, Rastelli faced as many as seven years in prison.
Enviro-Fill, which was contracted by the College Point Sports Association, left the ballfields project in horrible condition and parents of Little Leaguers outraged.
More than five years after the city stopped Enviro-Fill’s illegal dumping, the ballfield project has yet to be completed. Membership in the College Point Little League, once 1,300, dwindled to 242 after the scandal broke. The league has since used other fields in northeast Queens and its membership has climbed.
The city Parks Department, which now controls the land, hopes to have two ballfields and a roller hockey rink open this summer. The remainder of the project, which includes soccer fields, a football field and a track, has yet to be funded.
Sabina Cardali, president of the College Point Civic and Taxpayers Association and a TimesLedger columnist, said the state of the ballfields still is a sore subject.
“It involved children who could not play for over six years, and that’s what got me,” she said.
Councilman Tony Avella (D-Bayside), who headed the sports association at the time, said his volunteer group did as much as possible to look into the operations of Enviro-Fill.
“It was very upsetting to all of us that despite our best efforts, these people took advantage of the community,” he said.
The councilman called the sports complex his district’s “No. 1 capital project,” and said he hoped to secure funding for its completion.
In 1976, the College Point Sports Association began leasing land from the city, along 130th Street and Ulmer Avenue from 23rd Avenue to 28th Avenue, to use as ballfields.
In the mid-1990s, the association decided to transform the property into a sports complex. The association hired Enviro-Fill to dump fill on the land to raise the level of the field.
From October 1996 to October 1997, Enviro-Fill dumped on the property 70 cubic yards of solid waste, which included rusty pipes, wallboard, concrete, glass, metal and wire, covering the material with a thin layer of top soil, the DA said.
Rastelli and his company offered work at no charge, explaining Enviro-Fill would earn profits from local contractors paying for the privilege of dumping on the property, the DA said.
On Oct. 31, 1997, the city ordered work to be halted on the property when a Department of Sanitation inspector examined the debris left by Enviro-Fill.
The field was left unusable, and the city had to spend more than $10 million to clean it up, the DA said.
Enviro-Fill managed to dump the illegal material even though a monitor from the sports association was watching the company’s activity.
At the time, Avella faced criticism for allowing the illegal dumping. In 1998, he temporarily resigned as head of the sports association when its members refused to vote to turn the property over to the city. The city took the land anyway, and Avella was reinstated as president.
Rastelli is the fifth person to plead guilty in connection with the dumping scandal. Russell Marisak of Brooklyn, Francesco Casalino of Malverne, L.I., and his brothers Anthony and Joseph Casalino of Howard Beach admitted to helping dump the illegal material on the field, and they are awaiting sentencing, the DA said.
At the time of Enviro-Fill’s work, Avella thought Rastelli was just a worker and did not know he was “one of the principals behind the scenes,” the councilman said.
Reach reporter Alexander Dworkowitz by e-mail at Timesledger@aol.com or call 718-229-0300 Ext. 141.