Monday, December 01, 2008

Of Recycling Contracts, Felons, Bribery and Pollution

In August of 2006, an article like the one at the top of the previous post appeared in Recycling Today, announcing state grants intended to "boost" recycling goals in Illinois:

Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich has awarded more than $550,000 in Opportunity Returns grants to help boost recycling goals in the Chicago area. The grants are administered by the Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity and come as a part of Opportunity Returns, a regional economic development strategy designed to create more jobs and spur growth in the state.
The list of recipients included River Shannon Recycling.
River Shannon Recycling of Riverdale currently collects and recycles universal waste (e.g., fluorescent lamps) generated by businesses. It has been awarded two grants to expand its services to include the collection and processing of old, obsolete and unwanted electronics.
River Shannon subsequently won City of Chicago contracts to recycle flourescent light bulbs. All should have ended well, what with the state and the city doing all that is good and holy to clean up the environment. But (as you've probably already guessed) it ended in a full blown, tangled, ya'-need-a-scorecard corruption story. Ray Gibson wrote about it in the Tribune in 2007:
Oct. 29--A company that won City of Chicago contracts and was told it would receive state grants to recycle fluorescent light bulbs instead left thousands of the mercury-laden lamps inside a Riverdale warehouse, and officials there contend that the building has now become a hazardous-waste site.

Last week, the village began notifying federal and state environmental officials that it will seek to file a federal lawsuit over the alleged illegal storage of the light bulbs, which sit in the warehouse by the thousands and were never recycled.

Inspectors discovered significant levels of poisonous mercury from the light bulbs and other hazardous waste during two inspections of the building in recent weeks, said Michael Blazer, a village attorney who filed the notices.


The story behind the fracas involves two convicted felons, a politically connected developer who is under indictment, a lucrative city contract and the assertion by a top-ranking county environmental official that the company was "in compliance with both Illinois and Cook County recycling regulations".
Let's see if we can piece together what the state, and the city must have known before the fact. Then you tell me if you would give any of these guys an advance payment of five bucks to rake your lawn, let alone give them tens of thousands in graft grants and city contracts.

Player #1: Laurence C. Kelly, d/b/a River Shannon Recycling. (Gibson's article, Tribune on 10/29/2007):
"In 1981, Kelly was convicted in U.S. District Court in Chicago of charges that he paid bribes to Cook County tax authorities to obtain millions of dollars in tax breaks. He was released from prison in 1984 and shortly after started recycling businesses . . ."
Player #2: Raymond Akers, Jr.
". . . one time lobbyist for Waste Management of Illinois was convicted of paying $6500 in bribes to then-Ald. Clifford Kelley . . ." "Akers was hired by the county in 2000 and currently makes more than $72,000 a year."
Player #3: Lee H. Anglin, owner of the Riverdale warehouse.
"Last year, Anglin was charged with fraud by federal prosecutors who alleged he was the ringleader of a nationwide real estate investment scam that offered quick profits to purchase property in the Chicago area. He is accused of swindling more than $3.5 million from investors in New York, New Jersey, and Florida."

"While Anglin has pleaded not guilty, he has been assisting federal investigators, court records show."
So city and state politicians surely knew who they were dealing with before the fact. But after the publicity the city terminated ;a contract with "a Chicago firm that was going to use River Shannon to recycle flourescent bulbs from the city". (Gibson, Chicago Tribune, 11/2/07.) (Brandscombe Cable Co. - the Chicago firm - "mutually agreed" to terminate their contract with the city when the city asked them not to use River Shannon.)

Ordinarily, a federal EPA permit is required to recycle flourescent bulbs, but River Shannon had no permits, federal or state. Gibson, 11/7: "The city and the Commerce Department did business with River Shannon because of a letter written by Cook County's solid waste coordinator, Raymond Akers, Jr. that said a county survey found the company in regulatory compliance."

On June 30, 2008, Ray Gibson updates the story in the Chicago Tribune. Gibson writes that Lee Anglin, who at this point is in the Metropolitan Correctional Center awaiting trial on the federal fraud charges:
"—wrote in a letter to a Tribune reporter that he started paying bribes of $2,500 a month to keep the recycling business open. Anglin, who owned the warehouse, said he was interviewed by three agents about his allegations late last year, shortly after the Tribune published a story about the warehouse.

For nearly two years, Anglin's warehouse was used by [River Shannon], which had won lucrative public contracts and private business to recycle the mercury-laden flourescent light bulbs. Last year, the company was sued by the Village of Riverdale, which contended the warehouse had become a hazardous waste site contaminated by mercury and filled with light bulbs that had never been recycled."
According to Gibson, Anglin "ran into an issue with the EPA from Cook County" - that the "business was not up to code and actually illegal." That may be the understatement of the week. And he (Anglin) fixed it by making cash payments to "an unelected midlevel county official."

The end of the story is still pending. I'm of the opinion that more money moved than we will ever know about, despite the Herculean efforts of Ray Gibson of the Trib. Oh - one more thing Mr. Gibson tells us:
"Authorities also are trying to trace what happened to more than 60,000 light bulbs that were being stored in trailers in the West Loop."
They should maybe check the river. Now imagine what Chicago's flourescent bulb recycling will look like, when all of us are forced to use CFL's in 2014.

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