Thursday, May 26, 2016

'Dirt brokers' with mob ties dumped polluted soil in N.J.

soil pile.jpg epa photo

Updated 5/27/16 to add additional related story

“Rogue dirt brokers” with mob ties and criminal histories used
fake documents to haul hundreds of truckloads of tainted soil
and construction debris that were then dumped illegally onto environmentally sensitive sites in New Jersey, state investigators alleged Wednesday.

John C. Ensslin reported in The Record yesterday:

At a hearing before the State Commission of Investigation, commission investigators alleged that about 7,500 tons of concrete, asphalt, rebar, bricks and contaminated soil from a demolition site in the Bronx New York wound up on a section of a Raritan Bay beach front that had been battered by Superstorm Sandy.

They also alleged that a South Jersey recycling center that was supposed to turn leaves and branches into mulch became a dumping ground in 2013 for tainted soil from construction sites in Camden and New Brunswick.

“The primary purveyors of this scourge - rogue ‘dirt brokers’ whose criminal ties have remained secret because they are subject to no licensing requirements, not even simple background checks,” said Lee C. Seglem, acting executive director of the commission.

“We will show how they have been able to recruit truckers to haul contaminated soil and debris and unload it virtually anywhere they want to get the best bang for their tainted buck,” Seglem added.

Investigators contend that the lack of regulation in the industry made the alleged abuses possible.

“As a witness in the industry told us, all you need is a fax and a phone line and you’re in business,” said Carol Palmer, an investigator for the commission.
Seglem said the commission will continue its investigation with the goal of drafting a report to the Legislature at some later date.

The commission was established by the Legislature in 1968 as an independent fact-finding agency. Since then it has produced over 100 reports and legislative recommendations on topics ranging from organized crime, boxing, the EZ Pass system, psychiatric hospital abuses and local government corruption.

In northern New Jersey, allegations of tainted fill are nothing new. For example, Edgewater officials filed a lawsuit in 2014 after learning that contaminated crushed concrete had been used in a soil remediation project at Veteran’s Field.

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Wednesday’s hearing focused on two specific cases.

One involved a storm-eroded section of Cliffwood Beach on the Raritan Bay in Old Bridge, where about 350 truckloads of contaminated construction debris were dumped to shore up a 25-foot cliff on public land adjacent to a residential neighborhood.

Investigators presented what they said were two fake documents that claimed the debris was supposed to go to recycling centers in Mount Vernon and Staten Island.

But the owners of those centers denied signing the letters, which had identical type face and an identical typo stating that the centers would be able to “except” the materials, rather than “accept.”

Investigators said the dumping occurred without a permit. As a result, they said taxpayers in Old Bridge will have to foot a $250,000 bill to cap the site.

Related NJTV video report:

State Investigation of NJ Recycling Industry Uncovers Shady Practices

The other case involved a now-defunct recycling center in Palmyra that investigators alleged accepted contaminated soil and debris from construction sites in Camden and New Brunswick. The site was not licensed to accept such materials, investigators said.

Two men who were subpoenaed to face questioning from the commission invoked their Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination.

Frank Gillette of Jackson refused to answer questions about his alleged role as a dirt broker who arranged for the material from a Bronx site to be dumped at Cliffwood Beach.

Gillette, who was accompanied by his lawyer, invoked the Fifth Amendment five times under questioning by Commission Counsel C. Andrew Cliver. Commission investigators said Gillette is “connected to organized crime” and recently completed probation for passing bad checks in Essex County.

Related news story:
Mob still a problem in New Jersey's waste management sector

The commission also subpoenaed Bradley J. Sirkin, whom the commission identified as the former owner of Jersey Recycling Services, which operated the abandoned recycling center in Palmyra.

Sirkin, a Florida resident, did not appear at the hearing but sent a letter to the commission through his attorney, invoking his Fifth Amendment right not to testify. Commission documents stated that Sirkin had a “relationship with a former high-ranking member of the Philadelphia crime family.” Investigators said he served time in federal prison in the 1990s for a racketeering conviction.

Among the evidence presented in that case was an email stating that the soil transported from one of the sites “was adequate for transportation,” a finding that regulators disputed.

At the bottom of the email was a line that read, “Please consider the environment before printing this email.”

Gary Sondermeyer, vice president of Bayshore Recycling, Inc, and a former chief of staff for the state Department of Environmental Protection, told the commission that he would welcome background check for dirt brokers, noting that he had to undergo a background check to be a youth softball coach.

“Background checks are a way of life today,” Sondermeyer said. “The key is that the background check would be properly put together, that it would have the integrity that regulatory officials and law enforcement would want and at the same time not be overly burdensome.”

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