A judge has ordered New York State to pay $10.8 million to the families of two garbage contractors who were murdered nine years ago after they helped, but were not protected by, law enforcement officials investigating organized crime's stranglehold on the Long Island garbage-hauling industry.
The judge, Leonard Silverman of the State Court of Claims, ruled in November 1996 that the state was liable for the shooting deaths of the two carters, Robert M. Kubecka, 40, and Donald E. Barstow, 35, because it failed to protect the two men as promised.
All sides were sworn to secrecy regarding the liability finding, according to lawyers, until the judge made his decision on damages on June 30. Newsday first reported the award in today's editions.
In the ruling related to damages, made available today by lawyers for the plaintiffs, the judge described the last words of Mr. Kubecka in a 911 call for help. According to a transcript of the conversation, the 911 operator and dispatcher tried to get Mr. Kubecka to describe the gunmen while Mr. Kubecka, his voice failing, said he was struggling to remain conscious and could not move.
''Only the most coldhearted of cynics could not feel the terror experienced by Kubecka as he lay trapped by the immobility of his dying body,'' Judge Silverman wrote.
The judge noted that Mr. Kubecka had called a member of the state's Organized Crime Task Force on Aug. 9, 1989, to report that he had received threatening telephone calls that day. But the investigator did nothing more than tell Mr. Kubecka to call the Suffolk County Police Department, the judge wrote.
The next morning, Mr. Kubecka and Mr. Barstow, who were brothers-in-law, were found shot to death in the offices of their family-owned carting company in East Northport.
The judge ordered the state to pay the families of Mr. Kubecka and Mr. Barstow a total of $3 million for the pain and trauma the two men suffered during the final moments of their lives. The judge awarded an additional $7.8 million for the loss of income to their families and the trauma inflicted by their deaths on their young children: Mr. Barstow's daughter, Lynn, who was 7 at the time of the murders, and Mr. Kubecka's children, Melissa, then 8, and Eric, then 6. Mr. Kubecka and his family lived in Greenlawn at the time; the Barstows lived in Stony Brook.
The state began investigating the role of organized crime in the garbage-hauling industry on Long Island in the early 1980's. Mr. Kubecka and Mr. Barstow were said to be rebel, or outside, carters, who refused to play by the rules enforced by the Lucchese and Gambino organized-crime families. In 1982, the two men began cooperating with the investigation.
Law enforcement officials have described Mr. Kubecka as fearless in providing information about how mobsters controlled the collection territories in Nassau and Suffolk Counties by using threats, harassment and strong-arm tactics. Mr. Barstow also provided helpful information, the officials said.
Mr. Kubecka, although not trained to work undercover, wore a recording device and served as an important witness in a succession of successful Federal and state prosecutions. In addition, he suggested that the Organized Crime Task Force hide a microphone in the Jaguar that Salvatore Avellino Jr., then the kingpin of the garbage-hauling cartel on Long Island, used to chauffeur Anthony Corallo, described by the authorities as the boss of the Lucchese family.
Tapes of the conversations later helped Federal prosecutors win racketeering convictions against high-ranking members of the five organized-crime families operating in the metropolitan area at the time.
In taking such risks, the two men believed that they were protected by law enforcement officials, said Cynthia Kouril, one of the lawyers who represented the families of the dead men.
''They thought they were being backed up 24 hours a day, even when they reported receiving threats,'' Ms. Kouril said. The men's names had inadvertently been given to the lawyers for the racketeering suspects in papers requesting permission for the wiretaps, she added. ''They never thought their names would be made public."
''Their wives were threatened and their kids were followed home from school. Their families were terrorized for several years. It's amazing that they were not killed. But the state never made an application for them to enter the Federal witness protection program.''
Ms. Kouril said Mr. Kubecka's widow, Nina, and Mr. Barstow's widow, Cathy, who was Mr. Kubecka's sister, did not wish to comment on the court's ruling or the award.
Ms. Kouril said family members were upset after reading a transcript of Mr. Kubecka's 911 call. The 911 tape was played in the Court of Claims in Hauppauge for the judge, but was never heard by the victims' relatives. Newsday published the transcript today, despite last-minute efforts by Ms. Kouril to keep it private.
Joseph Perretta, an assistant attorney general who represented the state in the liability case, declined to comment today on the ruling.
Christopher McKenna, a spokesman for Attorney General Dennis Vacco, noted that the garbage-hauling investigation was begun by one of Mr. Vacco's predecessors, Robert Abrams.
Referring to the investigators working for Mr. Abrams, Mr. McKenna said, ''They apparently made promises to those people they could not keep and had no way of fulfilling.'' He said no decision had been made on whether to appeal Judge Silverman's ruling.
Mr. McKenna added that the state has no witness protection program, but ''since Mr. Vacco has been in office, we have taken a number of steps to improve witness protection and the work of the Organized Crime Task Force.''
''As a result, we've made some significant inroads against organized crime, including the recent case against John Gotti Jr.''
Information provided by the murdered witnesses led to the 1984 indictment on state charges of 26 carting company officials, politicians and reputed members of the Lucchese crime family. The following year, eight Long Island carters, including Mr. Avellino, pleaded guilty to various charges. In 1989, 17 more carting companies agreed to pay more than $3 million to dozens of Long Island communities that had been forced to pay high disposal fees.
That same year, the Justice Department filed racketeering charges against many Long Island carting companies, alleging that they were mob-controlled. Within two months, Mr. Kubecka and Mr. Barstow were murdered.
No one has been convicted in state or Federal court of pulling the trigger. But Mr. Avellino was arrested in 1993 while on parole and charged in Federal court with conspiracy to commit the murders and other crimes. He was subsequently sentenced to 10 1/2 years in prison as part of a plea bargain agreement. In 1995, four other men -- Mr. Avellino's brother Carmine Avellino, Anthony Baratta, Frank Federico and Rocco Vitulli -- were indicted in connection with the murders. All except Mr. Federico pleaded guilty to lesser crimes as part of plea bargain agreements. Mr. Federico's whereabouts are unknown.
Earlier this month, Anthony Casso, a former underboss of the Lucchese family, was sentenced to life in prison for conspiracy to commit murders and other crimes, including the Kubecka-Barstow killings.
A Federal monitor, appointed in 1994, continues to supervise Long Island's carting industry.
Families of Slain Informers Awarded $10.8 Million
By JOHN T. McQUISTON
Published: Wednesday, July 22, 1998
C:\Documents and Settings\CKouril\My Documents\Families of Slain Informers Awarded $10_8 Million - The New York Times.mht