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Sunday, March 30, 2014

UPDATED: New information revealed about the Copar Quarry

UPDATED: Meet our new neighbors, Part 1. 
Here is an update of our original article on the man who now seems to totally control this troublesome business.
Phil Armetta (photo courtesy of the
The Middletown Eye and Stephen DeVoto)
By Will Collette

UPDATE #2 (March 30, 2014). There is a must-read article in today's Westerly Sun by investigative reporter Dale Faulkner. Faulkner reveals that the man pictured to the left, Phil Armetta, has taken over control of Copar. The article below, first published here on Progressive Charlestown, ran in June 2013 and introduced Armetta to our community. 

Armetta, Copar's principal investor, has ousted Copar CEO Sam Cocopard amid claims of missing money. Cocopard has an extensive criminal past which was detailed here at Progressive Charlestown. Click here and here and here and here for more on Sam Cocopard's criminal past.

* * * * *

Progressive Charlestown brought you the scoop that the Connecticut-based Copar Quarry, which has been giving the neighbors of its Bradford quarry fits for the past two years, took over operations of Morrone’s sand and gravel operation on Route 91 in Charlestown. 

That happened on March 6, but Copar started off by operating for three months without a business license in Charlestown. That’s a violation of our town Ordinances that should have cost Copar fines of $25 a day. Click here and read Chapter 147. 

Charlestown could have busted Copar for the lack of a license - and you would think that with an anti-Copar resolution from the Town Council featured on the official town website that we would. 

But instead, Charlestown issued the business license on June 4, a couple weeks after we broke the news that they were operating without the required license.

Copar registered a new Rhode Island LLC for its new Charlestown quarry, ominously titled “Copar Quarries of RI LLC.” That plural “quarries” adds to the speculation that Copar plans other acquisitions, such as the long-unused site on Klondike Road owned by South County Sand and Gravel.

Watch for Copar's purple trucks with the Connecticut tags
There are several reasons why Copar should be added to the list of things that scare Charlestown residents. One is they already show contempt for the environment and environmental regulations, as demonstrated at their Bradford quarry site. 

They have caused their neighbors real anguish – even Judge Brian Stern, who admitted he does not want to hamper business operations, agreed that Copar was a nuisance to neighboring families.

Second, their entry into Charlestown was done in disregard of Charlestown’s law and, as I have recently discovered, state law.

Third, and this is not generally known information, but public records show that the four major Copar players – CEO Sam Cocopard, money guy Phil Armetta, "resident" agent Randy Roberge and company Controller Daniel Thibodeau – have histories of serious run-ins with the law.

In this series, I won’t spend a lot of time covering Copar’s operations in Bradford. The Westerly Sun has one of its best reporters, Dale Faulkner, investigating Copar and we’ve also covered Copar’s Bradford operation extensively in Progressive Charlestown.

In this installment, the main focus will be on how Copar went about opening its second operation, this time right in Charlestown, when it took over the Morrone Sand & Gravel operations on Route 91.

First there were rumors that Copar was on the move in Charlestown and slowly those rumors centered on Morrone’s. Then I found confirmation of a transfer from Morrone’s to Copar on the US Mine Safety and Health Administration database that showed the transaction was completed on March 6.

Earlier, on February 25, Copar created a new LLC by filing with the Rhode Island Secretary of State.

The problem with Copar’s new corporation filing is that it’s not accurate. It lists its principal address as 90 Industrial Park Road in Middletown, CT, except that according to the Connecticut Secretary of State, Copar’s address is actually 16 Spring Street in Chester, CT. There is no entity called Copar at 90 Industrial Park Road, Middleton CT according to the Connecticut Secretary of State. UPDATE: since this article ran, Copar has officially changed its headquarters from Chester, CT to the Armetta family empire's address of 90 Industrial Park Road, Middletown, CT.
Copar - NOT where their RI corporate registration says it is
UPDATE: since this article ran, they have changed the registration 
to read 90 Industrial Park Road, Middletown, CT

However, what is located at 90 Industrial Park Road in Middletown is the garbage empire of one of Copar’s main players, Phil Armetta and his family.

Armetta, described by the New York Times as “one of Connecticut’s largest trash haulers” and by the Hartford Courant as “Connecticut Trash Titan,” and his family have run more than a dozen trash and related businesses out of the address that is Copar Quarries of RI LLC’s official address[1].

But there's Phil! UPDATE: and now, officially, Copar.
He also drew one of Connecticut’s highest fines for landfill violations, $355,000 for violations at his Middletown, CT dump.

Armetta has, to put it mildly, a colorful past. In 2006, Armetta was indicted as a tangential player in the federal racketeering case against the Galante Family. Armetta was originally charged with extortion, but ended up pleading down to a lesser charge that landed him in federal penitentiary for three months, followed by three months of house arrest.

Getting busted by the feds turned out to be a benefit for Armetta since it forced him to take his name off of the greatest project of his life, the Kleen Energy “recycling” plant that was to be built in an abandoned feldspar quarry in Middletown. He had to place his holdings in Kleen Energy into a blind trust.

Six workers died in the Kleen Energy explosion
When Kleen Energy then blew up in February 2010, killing six workers, Armetta escaped prosecution. Indeed, not only did Armetta escape liability but according to Josh Kovner at the Hartford Courant, he made a bundle by selling the land where the plant was siting and is receiving developer’s fees “that he says could amount to tens of millions of dollars over the next two decades.”

Though Armetta dodged the bullet on the Kleen Energy disaster, Armetta is nonetheless deeply involved in the trash business as he has throughout most of his adult life. Although he has placed many of his businesses in other people’s names, he is unabashed in making repeated public claims that these businesses are his, no matter who’s name is on the paperwork.

Now, as a principal with Copar, he helps create the big holes in the ground that have been favorite sites for waste disposal operations, like the one Armetta’s partners used for the disastrous Kleen Energy plant and that Copar and Armetta are creating in Lisbon, CT. Click here for their site plan.
As Charlestown gets deeper into its relationship with its new neighbors, there will be plenty of time to delve deeper into Mr. Armetta’s interesting history.

Armetta isn’t the only Copar executive with a colorful history. However, since it’s his place that Copar lists as the home office for its Charlestown operations, it’s going to be important for Charlestown residents and town officials to come to grips with what kind of business and businessmen it is dealing with.

As Westerly learned the hard way, Copar will pretty much do whatever it wants to do, and simply let its lawyers deal with any pushback. They have defied two town of Westerly cease-and-desist orders and blew off a threat by Judge Brian Stern that unless they behaved, some of the executives might get jailed for contempt.

They used well-connected local figures like lawyer George Comolli to buffalo town authorities. They used the offers of jobs and inappropriate gifts to compromise public officials.

When Westerly started to unravel these facts, took those public officials who had been compromised off the case and started to seriously press for Copar’s compliance with the law, Copar filed a $10 million lawsuit against the town claiming that Westerly was part of a “conspiracy” to deprive Copar of its rights. Though the whole premise of Copar’s lawsuit is pretty silly[2], it threw Westerly off its stride.

Copar has, to date, behaved very unlike the typical South County company. A close look at the history of the four main players in Copar explains a lot about the sort of corporate behavior we’re just not all that used to seeing in South County.

So far, Charlestown has responded to the problems Copar’s Bradford operation has caused for nearby Charlestown residents with a sternly worded Town Council resolution. Copar answered by setting up shop right in Charlestown and, if the rumors prove true, has its eye on at least one other Charlestown site.

NOTE: Charlestown lacks a "good character" or "bad actor" provision in its ordinances that would prohibit issuing licenses to or doing business with companies with records of law-breaking. In Copar's case, their track record in Westerly alone, never mind the records of the company and its principals in Connecticut, would be more than sufficient to trigger most bad actor laws I've seen.

In this series, I’ll do my bit by digging up what I can find on the company and its players. But Charlestown is going to have to decide whether it is ready to take on an opponent that has already caused more harm to town residents than the proposed Whalerock industrial wind farm could ever, and now threatens to do more. Or maybe just pass another resolution.


[1] Among the Armetta family enterprises that work out of 90 Industrial Park Road, Middletown CT are
  • Dainty Rubbish Services (Armetta’s flagship business)
  • Regional Disposal Systems of Lisbon
  • Regional Landfill Development of Lisbon
  • Regional Disposal Systems of Bristol
  • Regional Disposal Systems of Middletown
  • PCA-Satellite Beach Holdings
  • PC Armetta Realty
  • Safeway Microwave Inc. (merged)
  • Regional Transfer Systems (dissolved)
  • Safeway Disposal Systems (dissolved)
  • Highpoint Development (dissolved)
  • Regional Disposal Systems (dissolved)
No division or branch of Copar turns up on the Westlaw database or the Connecticut Secretary of State database at 90 Industrial Park Road.

[2] There was a time when companies would file what are called SLAPP suits to stifle community opposition. SLAPP stands for “Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation.” However, SLAPP suits have become rare now that most states – including Rhode Island – have enacted state laws penalizing those who would use SLAPPs to block citizens from exercising their Constitutional rights. However, there is also a rarely used variant of SLAPP suits – Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Officials – where the company attempts to close down government regulatory actions by bringing suits such as Copar’s. These suits only succeed if the local government allows the suit to intimidate it.