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February 9, 2009

Bill Seeks Background Checks, Licenses For Trash Haulers

PHOTO/ASSOCIATED PRESS Trash hauler James Galante, left, and his attorney, Hugh Keefe, are shown arriving at U.S. District Court in New Haven, in September for a sentencing hearing. Galante had pleaded guilty in June to racketeering conspiracy and fraud charges.

In an effort to root out organized crime in the state’s trash hauling industry, Attorney General Richard Blumenthal is proposing legislation that would require licensing and background checks of waste haulers.

Blumenthal said the recent conviction of mafia-connected trash hauler James Galante is proof of organized crime’s infiltration in Connecticut and demonstrates the need for such legislation.

“Some trash haulers in the state have monopoly power that allows them to divide territory or otherwise misuse their dominant economic position,” Blumenthal said in an interview. “These common sense requirements already exist in other states and are long overdue in Connecticut.”

Both Blumenthal and Gov. M Jodi Rell have proposed similar bills in the past, but they have faced fierce opposition from the hauling industry, which has complained about the bills’ costs.

State lawmakers have been cool to the idea as well.

Blumenthal said he is optimistic his latest bill will get more support because he’s reworked it to make it less expensive for smaller companies.

While previous bills applied to all trash haulers, the latest bill applies only to waste haulers with four or more trucks. They would have to obtain a state license and allow background checks on their employees.

Blumenthal has also dropped a provision requiring haulers to post $10,000 surety bonds for each vehicle used to collect garbage. Now he’s proposing to require them merely to have liability insurance to cover potential damages to the environment.

“It’s not only cheaper, but any ethical businessperson would want to have that insurance anyway,” Blumenthal said.

Any individual with a significant interest in such companies would also need to obtain a license and submit to a background check, Blumenthal said. “While the vast majority of trash haulers are honest and hardworking, there are some who have misused their authority,” he said.

Jim Barnes, president and CEO of Oakleaf Waste Management of East Hartford, which hires independent haulers to service hundreds of businesses throughout Connecticut, said state background checks “would clearly be in our interests.”

Barnes said he hadn’t reviewed the details of Blumenthal’s bill but added, “We are strongly in favor of more rigorous, state-mandated background checks of the kind that exist in New York and New Jersey.”

Oakleaf and its officers have passed similar checks in those two states for the past 14 years.

But others in Connecticut remain resistant.


Raising Costs

“I’m still opposed to it,” said Michael R. Paine, chairman of the state chapter of the National Solid Waste Mangers Association. “It’s very similar to what he’s proposed in the past. I don’t see why excluding some companies from licensing makes it any better. Either everyone should be licensed or no one should be.”

Paine, who is also president of Paine’s Inc., an East Granby refuse hauler, said the legislation would raise the cost of doing business in Connecticut. He said the cost of licensing and background checks would “eventually get passed on to our customers.”

It’s not yet clear how much the proposed new rules would cost, but non-compliance would be expensive.

Blumenthal is calling for a civil penalty of up to $25,000 for each day an unlicensed hauler operates and a $25,000 fine and up to two years in prison the first time an individual is convicted of knowingly operating a trash hauling business without a license.

The penalties would increase to $50,000 and five years in prison for the second and any subsequent violations, Blumenthal said.

Blumenthal said the bill is needed because of a history of organized crime in the state, ranging from Fairfield County to Hartford.

The most notable recent case was that of Galante, the Fairfield County trash hauler who was sentenced to 87 months in prison last September for his role in a price-fixing operation that authorities said was supported by the mob.

Galante, who operated Automated Waste Disposal and other trash companies, pleaded guilty to a myriad of charges after federal authorities said he made quarterly payments to the Genovese crime family in New York. Those payments allegedly bought muscle to suppress competition within the industry and drive up rates for customers.

Galante’s businesses handled nearly 80 percent of the refuse in southwestern Connecticut.

Blumenthal said forcing background checks, tough licensing requirements and significant fines and jail terms for failing to comply would block the entry of criminals into the industry.

“We believe there are areas where consumers have little to no choice as far as who they pick for their trash haulers,” Blumenthal said. “There are areas where there are no competitors. Licensing would establish some transparency and shed some light about who is doing business where.”

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