Hasidic sect fined $19K for girls-camp violations

Times Herald-Record, New York/August 26, 2009

Monticello - A Hasidic group that was forced out of the former Homowack Lodge faces fines of up to $19,500 for allowing children to live in filthy and dangerous conditions for five weeks, the Times Herald-Record has learned.

Congregation Bais Trana, based in the Monsey area of Rockland County, evacuated a girls camp in August after a five-week standoff with state Department of Health and Town of Mamakating officials.

The group faces a maximum penalty of $2,000 for each of nine violations and a maximum of $250 for six others. DOH has offered to settle the case for $12, 650, records indicate.

"They have been cited in the past," said Mark Knudsen, DOH district director, Monday. "As I recall, they settled all the cases prior to the hearing. All the respondents are offered an opportunity to settle a case without a hearing, similar to plea bargaining."

According to citation reports and court records, children were playing outside without supervision and used an indoor swimming pool that had unsafe water quality.

A 6-foot-tall mound of kitchen waste was piled next to an overflowing dumpster. Toxic cleaning materials were kept in unlocked storage rooms in the dorms and old mattresses and other debris were jammed into the basement of one of the dorms.

Fire doors were propped open with garbage cans, chairs and buckets. Exit doors were blocked or locked. Water was leaking over exposed electrical boxes and fixtures. A well-head was submerged in water, threatening a supply of potable water.

DOH asked the group to leave voluntarily and later sought a commissioner's order and then a court order forcing them out on Aug. 9. Roughly 265 girls and 35 families were staying there.

Knudsen said the camp can negotiate a lesser settlement payment if they argue convincingly that the proposed penalties are excessively harsh.

"Our intention was not to fine then, it was to vacate the property," Knudsen said.

As a condition of a settlement, the congregation would have to agree not to occupy the buildings unless they are brought up to state standards.

In a separate action in Supreme Court, the state Attorney General's Office is seeking a permanent injunction that would prevent the camp from using the properties.

DOH has scheduled an administrative hearing in Monticello for Sept. 23.

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