Jun 19

Babylon Acquittals – Town officials not guilty of stealing funds.

Waste Dumping Trial to Jury / Fund raiser, alleged favors by Babylon officials in question
BY: Michael Rothfeld. STAFF WRITER
DATE: 05-11-2000

Did Babylon hire Trinity Transportation of Central Islip in 1995 without a contract, a bid, a bond or town board approval, and allow it to run up a huge debt, all as payoff for a political fund raiser?

Or were town officials simply trying to solve a garbage crisis in a tumultuous era when none of the conventional rules applied?

A jury is now about to decide.

Lawyers gave their closing statements yesterday in the trial of Babylon Environmental Control Commissioner Ronald Kluesener, Finance Director Douglas Jacob and Trinity.

Then County Court Judge John Mullin charged the jury, which is expected to begin deliberations in Riverhead today.

Both sides yesterday seemed to agree: in order to convict, the jury will need to conclude, based solely on the town’s business dealings with Trinity, that the company was given favors in exchange for throwing Supervisor Richard Schaffer a $37,000 fund raiser in August, 1995. Suffolk County prosecutors say there is no other way to explain the relationship.

“Trinity is being given this special treatment, folks, because of this campaign contribution,” Assistant District Attorney Richard T. Dunne told the jury.

A shortage of garbage, he said, is “not a blank check to throw out all the protections that town law and the Babylon town code put in place.”

All three defense lawyers assailed what they said was sketchy and circumstantial evidence that never tied the defendants to the fund raiser. Stephen Scaring, Trinity’s attorney, compared one piece of testimony to “a drop of water in the desert,” which prosecutors hoped would grab the jury’s attention.

“Don’t be fooled,” Scaring instructed them. “Don’t let them trick you by trying to set up this scenario of suspicion.”

Kluesener, Jacob and Trinity face felony charges of grand larceny, conspiracy and falsifying business records. Jacob and Kluesener are also charged with official misconduct.

Defense lawyers contend that the case is a political attack on Schaffer, a Democrat, by Republican Suffolk District Attorney James M. Catterson Jr.

At the center of the two-week trial were price adjustments and credits to Trinity’s waste dumping account made in February, 1996, after the town attorney learned of an outstanding $878,000 balance.

Prosecutors say those changes were made retroactively because Trinity threw the fund raiser at Huntington’s Oheka Castle, and that up to $160,000 was credited to the company for no reason.

Defense lawyers said the price Trinity paid for dumping in the town was actually reduced the previous August to reflect market conditions when the garbage supply was dwindling and Babylon’s plant faced a costly shutdown.

The billing through February was inaccurate, they said.

In his closing statements, attorney John Carman described Kluesener as a “hard-working, honest, committed town servant” trying frantically to bring in 225,000 tons of trash a year, while board members were nowhere to be found.

“They all went happily about their business in a state of denial,” Carman said. “Nobody ever said Ron Kluesener was on vacation.”

William Wexler, Jacob’s lawyer, recited for the jury the instances when his client’s name had been mentioned in the trial, which he said left him clueless as to the basis for the charges.

“He pleads guilty to being a Democrat in the Town of Babylon,” Wexler said. “Even those with the best imaginations can’t get to where Mr. Dunne wants you to go, because it’s not there.”
Click here for Babylon Acquittal article
Click here to return to the News Page