QUEENS — A city parks enforcement officer refused to write a summons for a $40,000 fine against a Kew Gardens man who hired people to staple fliers looking for his stolen Donald Trump campaign signs, according to reports and a labor union representing the officer.
In August, Michael Ricatto, a Florida real estate investor who owns a house on Abingdon Road in Kew Gardens, hired several people to put up 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” yard signs got stolen four times since he started putting them up six months earlier.
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 the fliers angered some in the community who said the staples used to hang them damaged neighborhood trees.
The Parks Department sent its foresters to inspect the trees in the neighborhood. They determined that 11 of them had deep staple wounds, amounting to over $40,000 worth of damage, the agency said.
But according to the leaked emails, which were first reported by the “A Walk in the Park" blog, the amount was questioned by the agency’s general counsel, Karen Dugan, who handles restitution cases.
“Am I reading this email chain correctly? Are we charging this Kew Gardens gentleman with $41,000.00 worth of tree damage due to some staples being inserted in 11 trees?" Dugan wrote in an email on Sept. 7, according to the blog.
"Our office was told many years ago that staples do not cause harm to city trees, to the extent that we can’t seek monetary restitution as they do not penetrate deep enough to cause damage,” she also wrote. "We were told that it was impossible to affix an amount on such damages."
Nevertheless, on Sept. 21, Sgt. Joey Oro, who has worked as a Parks Enforcement Patrol (PEP) officer for 29 years, was asked to issue a $40,000 summon to Ricatto. When he refused, the agency filed a disciplinary charge against him, according to Local 983 President Joe Puleo, who represents PEP officers.
Oro was brought into a disciplinary hearing on Oct. 20 and and is currently awaiting its decision, according to Puleo.
The Parks Department did not immediately comment on the disciplinary charge.
In October, the agency issued Ricatto 22 summonses for a total of $1,650 — 11 $100 summonses for minor tree damage, and 11 $50 summonses for unlawful posting.
He paid the amount after he was told by his lawyers that it would cost him more to fight the fines.
“Being that no one else has gotten fined — neither people who lost their pets nor those looking for work nor people who teach guitar lessons nor those who teach piano ... I have been railroaded,” said Ricatto in an email to DNAinfo New York.
"My interpretation is that New York with the current both city and state administrations has become just as vengeful as a third-world country's government," he added. "If you displease them by speaking out you will be punished."
“It’s obviously absurd that they are claiming that there is $41,000 in damage," said Geoffrey Croft, president of NYC Park Advocates and author of A Walk in the Park. "That’s completely laughable.”
The Parks Department said Friday it stood by its assessment.
“Damaging trees is against Parks rules because destroying a tree’s protective layers — bark and the inner skin — can expose its sap, the tree’s lifeblood, to parasites and fungus, which can have harmful long-term effects; including death,” said Maeri Ferguson, a spokeswoman for the agency in an email.
“The fine issued to Mr. Ricatto was determined by the Office of Administrative Trials and Hearings, and is not based on the amount of damage or the cost associated, but rather on the rule broken," she added.
She did not immediately answer whether the agency was planning to demand that Ricatto pays $41,000 in restitution.