WAWAYANDA—Five of the six people who were arrested last December for protesting at the Competitive Power Ventures (CPV) plant off I-84 in the Town of Wawayanda showed up to court on Sept, 29, but not for their trial.
Actor James Cromwell of Warwick was not able to appear because of an acting job in New York City and, according to his co-defendants, had notified the judge the week before that he would waive his constitutional right to stand trial.
Nevertheless, the defendants were told midafternoon the day before that the trial would be postponed because the judge “was not comfortable with that,” said the group’s attorney, Michael Sussman.
The other reason the judge cited, according to Sussman, was that he was still considering whether their defense had merit.
The protesters were arrested for disorderly conduct while locking arms and blocking traffic at the CPV construction site on Dec. 18, citing environmental and health concerns.
They said they had a list of experts lined up to testify about the problems with the natural gas power plant, which will use out-of-state fracked gas and hold a 15,000 gallon ammonia tank on the 122-acre site.
They planned to use the “necessity” defense to show that this was an imminent threat to their health, but the judge wanted more evidence before the trial to determine whether their claims had merit or not.
“There was no challenge to our necessity defense at two prior court appearances,” said Pramilla Malick, one of the defendents. “If that was the case, then he should have made that announcement two court appearances back.”
The defendants, who have dubbed themselves the “Wawayanda Six,” believe the judge had other motives for postponing the trial date, chiefly his closeness to the town supervisor.
Judge Timothy McElduff Jr. ran on the same ticket as Wawayanda Supervisor John Razzano, who was quoted in a CPV press release as saying, “We feel this is an important project for the region. … Seeing it come to fruition after years of hard work is very exciting.”
The judge’s salary is set by him, with the approval of the town board, which is enough to warrant a recusal, they said.
McElduff could not be reached for comment.
CPV was thrust into the limelight recently when a former adviser to Gov. Andrew Cuomo was charged in federal court with accepting $287,000 through his wife from CPV between 2012 to 2016.
Joseph Percoco, who was also a close relation to Cuomo’s father, Mario Cuomo, pleaded not guilty to using his influence to help CPV get lucrative state deals.
Starting in 2010, CPV executive Peter Galbraith Kelly Jr., who was also charged in the case, treated Percoco to expensive meals and gave him fishing trips to the Hamptons, the U.S. Attorney’s office said in a press release.
Later, Percoco’s wife was employed by CPV for $90,000 a year in a job that required “little work,” the release said.
CPV said in a Sept. 22 statement that Kelly was no longer with CPV and the company would be cooperating with the investigation.
After the news broke, several Orange County politicians pledged to donate the money their campaigns had received from CPV-related entities to charity.
State Sen. John Bonacic called for the U.S. attorney general to also look into the plant’s permitting process.
For the dozen or so anti-CPV protesters who gathered outside the courthouse Sept. 29, the bribery charges were no surprise.
“What you see in the indictment by the U.S. attorney, is just the tip of the iceberg,” Malick said. “There were many other decisions made throughout the eight-year process that we believe were also tainted by corruption.”
Malick acknowledged that even if the Wawayanda Six are exonerated, it would not stop the 650-megawatt power plant from being built. At this point it’s up to the leaders of the county, she said, which is one reason she’s running for the 42nd State Senate District seat as a Democratic candidate.
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On Oct. 4, this article was updated to reflect Malick’s title as the Democratic candidate for the 42nd State Senate District in the general election. Epoch Times regrets the error.