Morris County officials, on Thursday, presented commendations to Sergeant Joseph Soulias, Detective Supervisor Brad Palatucci, Detective Luis Goncalves, Detective Joseph Ellis, Detective Paul Papamarkos, Supervising Assistant Prosecutor Christopher Schellhorn and Assistant Prosecutor Kelly Sandler for their work investigating and prosecuting an environmental crimes case.
According to officials, on August 14, 2019, Detective Goncalves and Detective Ellis were advised of a solid waste incident off of Route 24 in Florham Park.
They responded and observed construction debris – exterior siding, paint cans, tile, wood flooring, etc. - located near power lines that border a large wooded area and a freshwater stream. The site was remediated of the debris by the Florham Park Public Works Department and confirmed to be a wetland buffer zone within the riparian zone by the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection (NJDEP).
Following a lead to Oakland, it was learned that a homeowner recently hired Robert Luis Benitez of RLB Construction for a renovation project. The homeowner had photos and materials consistent with the debris located in the wooded area off of Route 24.
Search warrants were executed by Detective Supervisor Palatucci, Detective Papamarkos and the Florham Park Police Department Detective Bureau. A search of the defendant’s cellphone found a photograph of the debris after it had been dumped near Route 24, along with other photos of the project in Oakland.
Officials report that Benitez was charged with third-degree Unlawful Disposal or Transportation of Solid Waste, third-degree Violation of the Freshwater Wetlands Protection Act, and third-degree Improper Discharge in Violation of the Flood Hazard Area Control Act.
Morris County Prosecutor’s Office Arson/Environmental Crimes Unit members, Case Supervisor Sergeant Soulias, SAP Schellhorn and AP Sandler, were instrumental in successfully investigating and resolving this matter in the form of a guilty plea on January 27.
Benitez pled guilty to third-degree Violation of the Freshwater Wetlands Protection Act and was sentenced on February 28 to one-year probation and a $10,000 fine.
“The Morris County Prosecutor’s Office Arson and Environmental Crimes Unit continues to perform outstanding work to ensure the public is protected from criminal polluters," Morris County Prosecutor Fredric Knapp said. "Our attorneys and detectives being commended today have decades of expertise in this critically important field. Morris County is very well served by them and I am proud to commend them today.”