State: Settlement over $650,000 site cleanup falls through

RUTLAND — An attorney for the state says a local businessman hasn’t lived up to a pledge to provide needed documents to finalize a settlement over the $650,000 environmental cleanup of his property.

Assistant Attorney General Justin Kolber has now asked Judge Helen Toor to hold a hearing to determine how much money John Ruggiero, the owner of the site of a former dry-cleaning business, must pay the state for the cleanup it did of that property.

Helen Toor

Judge Helen Toor. File photo by Hilary Niles/VTDigger

The state cleaned up the site in 2014 after deeming it an “environmental emergency.”

Ruggiero, at a hearing in the case last month, told the judge he would give the state and the court a document listing other properties in the city he intended to sell to reimburse the state for the cleanup.

He said in court that those documents would be filed by July 3.

“(T)he State has received nothing,” Kolber wrote in a recent filing.

The attorney added that he tried to contact Ruggiero. However, Ruggiero hasn’t responded to messages, Kolber wrote.

That lack of response appears to derail a tentative settlement the parties reached in April. Kolber at the hearing last month said that without the document from Ruggiero outlining how he intended to raise the money to pay back the state, the settlement would be off the table.

Details of that tentative settlement were never made public because it wasn’t finalized. It did, however, include Ruggiero paying back the state for the cost of the cleanup, which has been pegged at $650,000.

Kolber in his recent filing called on the judge to schedule a “damages hearing” to try to collect the money.

In addition to covering the cost of cleaning up Ruggiero’s property on Woodstock Avenue, former site of Filippo Dry Cleaners, the judge could assess monetary penalties against him.

The judge has set that hearing for Sept. 25 in Rutland Superior Court.

Ruggiero could not be reached Friday for comment.

The state’s case against him has spanned several years and included many legal twists and turns. It also included the unusual step of the state stepping in and cleaning up a property belonging to a private landowner.

In 2014, after Ruggiero failed to do it himself, the state decided it was time to clean up the property to prevent the situation from worsening.

The state said at the time that immediate action was needed to stop migration of a plume of tetrachloroethylene, a dry cleaning solvent and known human carcinogen, toward a nearby residential neighborhood.

The cleanup did take place before any of the contamination spread to the neighborhood or put anyone at risk, according to state officials.

The dry cleaning business, which started in the 1970s, remained in operation until 2001.

Ruggiero, who owns and manages about 20 properties in the city under a number of corporate names, had purchased the property at a tax sale in 2004 for $10. The state had repeatedly tried to have him clean up the property.

State officials believed the contamination was the result of decades of the dry cleaning business operating at the site.

Ruggiero has said in the past he didn’t have the financial resources to pay for the cleanup. A former lawyer, Ruggiero was sent to jail in 2006 for mail fraud, and many of his properties in the city are delinquent on taxes.

Alan J. Keays

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