KEW GARDENS — More than $40,000 worth of damage was done to nearly a dozen trees in Kew Gardens by deep staple wounds, according to the city's Parks Department, which investigated the area following complaints over a man hanging fliers through the neighborhood after his Donald Trump yard signs were stolen.
Less than two weeks ago, Michael Ricatto, a Florida real estate investor who owns a house on Abingdon Road, hired several people who taped and stapled fliers offering a $5,000 reward for information leading to the arrest of a suspect to trees and lampposts in the neighborhood after his “Trump 2016” signs got stolen four times since he started putting them up six months ago.
The fliers included a surveillance image of a man Ricatto said was behind the most recent theft, which happened on Aug. 18 around 3:40 a.m.
But Ricatto's postering also angered some in the community who said the staples used to hang the filers damaged neighborhood trees.
The Parks Department said that it received multiple complaints about the issue through 311 as well as a local Facebook group, all on the afternoon of Aug. 28.
After the issue came to light, Dominick Pistone, president of the Kew Gardens Civic Association, said local residents "take our trees seriously."
Residents also expressed concerns about the litter after many of the fliers were torn down.
Parks Department foresters, who inspected 40 trees in the neighborhood after receiving the complaints, determined that 11 of them had deep staple wounds, amounting to over $40,000 worth of damage, the agency said.
“Parks takes size, lifespan and overall health of a tree into consideration when determining replacement costs to ensure that we can adequately replenish the city's tree supply,” said Maeri Ferguson, a spokeswoman for the Park Department.
Ferguson also said that “Parks is still determining the appropriate course of action," and no summonses had been issued as of Wednesday.
The agency noted that it did not catch anyone in the act, so it cannot blame the damage on anyone in particular, although Ricatto's phone number was included on the fliers.
But Ricatto questioned the outcome of the inspection.
“Sounds far-fetched to me,” he said, adding that he has not received any notification about the issue from the Parks.
“There are abundant staples in trees all over the place from all kinds of sources,” he added.
In fact, a Parks Department notice about tree removal and pruning has been recently stapled to a tree on 83rd Avenue, between Abingdon and Beverly roads, he said. The notice was still there as of Thursday morning.
When asked about the staples in the tree trimming notice, a spokeswoman said that when the Parks Department has marked a tree for emergency removal, the agency will "staple signs using special short staples and often affix a small metal tag so that crews or contractors can easily identify them."
Ricatto also blamed his political adversaries for filing the complaints about his fliers around the neighborhood.
“The main impetus of this is the fact that I am a Conservative Republican in a sea of Liberal Democrats,” said Ricatto, who has recently placed a large "Trump — Make America Great Again" banner in front of his house.
(Photo credit: Paul Brainard)