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Cleanup Finally Begins In Suffolk County 'Operation: Pay Dirt' Illegal Dumping Case

CENTRAL ISLIP, N.Y. (CBSNewYork) -- It's believed to be one of the largest environmental dumping cases in New York state history. On Wednesday, the cleanup commenced.

The criminal defendants are responsible for the cost to remediate the contaminated soil in Suffolk County, CBS2's Jennifer McLogan reported.

Homeowner John Kerrigan has been through the ringer. He was duped by a dirt broker hauling what he told Kerrigan was leftover clean fill landscaping topsoil.

"He said he was working in the area and he had been passing by. He had a great big truck," said Kerrigan, of Central Islip.

FLASHBACK: Suffolk DA Announces Massive Illegal Dumping Bust

That nightmare began two years ago and now Kerrigan and 25 other Long Island homeowners, parks, schools and business properties are being cleared of contaminated soil that was illegally dumped.

"We made a promise to the victims that not only would we hold the co-conspirators responsible for their crimes, but we would also make sure they paid for all of the cleanup costs," Suffolk County District Attorney Timothy Sini said.

Called "Operation: Pay Dirt," it is one of largest toxic cases in New York state history. Thirty defendants and 10 corporations all pleaded guilty, landing ringleader Anthony Grazio in prison.

"I apologize deeply to the people of Suffolk County and anybody that did receive the material," Grazio said.

Stakeouts and surveillance led to wire taps.

"This material sucks. It stinks. It smells. I'm burying it. You have to cut corners to make money," Grazio is heard saying on one recording.

"Health, safety put at risk because somebody, some criminal wanted to make an extra buck," Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone said.

Investigators say Long Island has been ground zero for illegal dumping in recent years, fueled by its proximity to New York City's booming construction.

"Do you see tile, wires, glass, plastic, other things that might be resulting from demolition?" said Carrie Gallagher, regional director of the state Department of Environmental Conservation.

As Operation: Pay Dirt cleanup continues, the DEC said it wants to hear from other potential victims.

Investigators say environmental crimes are often committed by lucrative companies, and their victims are in lower-income communities.

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