A Long Island landscaper has been arrested after authorities said he mixed hazardous waste with garden mulch and then sold it as shredded hardwood, which is a product used in children's playgrounds and gardens.
Victor Liotta, 46, of Oceanside, N.Y., was charged with first-degree scheme to defraud, prohibited disposal of solid waste, operation of a solid waste management facility without a permit, and misbranded or adulterated fertilizer.
His company, Liotta Bros. Recycling Corporation, operates two locations, according to Nassau County District Attorney Kathleen Rice: one is a solid waste management facility and the other is a retail store called Island Hopper Landscape Supplies.
The waste management facility receives, sorts, disposes and recycles non-hazardous solid waste, while the landscaping supply store sells byproducts from the recycling facility as gardening and landscape supplies, including top soil, mulch, gravel, rocks, paving stones and slate.
When a state Department of Environmental Conservation engineer conducted a random spot-check at Liotta's landscaping store in March 2010, the engineer found that a sample of wood chips contained some wood that had been stained, chemically treated or glued, Rice said.
There were also unauthorized construction and demolition debris, including plastic chips, floor tiles, rags, sheet metal and rubber, which are typically more expensive to get rid of, the DA's office said.
The DEC referred the case to the DA's Environmental Crimes Unit, whose own investigators discovered that in addition to wood chips, bags of garden mulch sold at the retail landscaping store were also mixed with unauthorized construction waste, even though the bags were marked "100 percent hardwood."
DA investigators made several undercover buys of the hazardous mulch before Liotta was arrested Monday.
Consumers should choose mulch made by companies whose wood comes from raw lumber rather than any type of unadulterated recycled wood items, Rice said.
Liotta's lawyer, Mark Gann, said the DA's office inflated claims the mulch was dangerous, and said it did not contain excessive amounts of non-hardwood material.
"We had an opportunity to evaluate it and test it ourselves," said Gann. "They [the DA's office] are inflaming the situation beyond what reality will show."
Gann also raised questions over the length of time it took for the DA's office to charge Liotta, noting that a warrant had previously been executed at Liotta's business last August, and that it did not appear any new information had been generated from that time up until his arrest Monday.
Customers of Liotta's who are concerned over mulch they have purchased from the business should contact the DA's office at 516-571-2994 with specific questions, the DA's office said.