Mobbed With Fees?

After a three-year investigation involving an undercover FBI agent and electronic surveillance, the U.S. Attorney for the District of Connecticut has brought indictments against 29 individuals connected to the southwest Connecticut trash hauling industry. Of the 117 counts, James Galante, co-owner of Automated Waste Disposal, was charged in 72 of them.

The indictments include allegations that Galante and others participated in a “property rights system” in which haulers claimed a permanent right to their stops. Under the system, members of organized crime families discourage competition for new contracts in exchange for a “mob tax,” which can lead to increased prices for consumers.

Among the alleged violations are racketeering, mail and wire fraud, and tax and conspiracy charges. Specifically, Matthew “Matty the Horse” Ianniello, said to be a member of the New York Genovese crime family, is accused of receiving quarterly payments of $30,000 from Galante. Thomas Milo, an alleged associate of the Genovese family, co-owns Automated Waste Disposal and was named in some of the indictments. Galante, who also owns the Danbury Thrashers hockey team, additionally is accused of bypassing the United Hockey League's salary cap by giving some players and players' spouses “no show” jobs with the hauling company. Galante, Ianniello and Milo have pleaded not guilty.

Because of the racketeering charges, U.S. Marshals began monitoring the businesses to ensure that they are not sold or devalued. They now have subcontracted the daily monitoring to Virginia-based Maximus, which will report to the U.S. Marshals every 30 days and the court every 90 days. If the owners are convicted, the United States will take ownership of the assets, which include 25 hauling and related businesses, a process that could take a few years.

In the meantime, operations have continued to run smoothly, says Cheryl Reedy, director of the Housatonic Resources Recovery Authority, a regional waste authority that oversees 11 municipalities in southwest Connecticut. “Within a few hours [of the indictments], it was obvious that the garbage and recyclable collection and disposal system in the region was going to continue to operate without a hitch,” she says.

In response to the indictments, Connecticut Gov. M. Jodi Rell has called for a statewide authority that would license and monitor businesses in the solid waste industry. Rell has given the departments of Public Safety, Consumer Protection and Public Health and the Chief State's Attorney's office until July 21 to make recommendations for how the authority would operate. A spokesperson for the governor says that based on the input gathered, Rell may consider setting up the authority among other state agencies rather than create a completely new entity.

Rell has recommended that the departments look at Westchester County, N.Y.'s Solid Waste Commission, which was formed in 1999 to deal with mob activity there. Among its responsibilities, the commission performs background checks on those seeking a license and issues licenses.

Not everyone, however, agrees with Rell's approach. “You don't need an axe to kill an ant,” says Bruce Parker, president and CEO of the National Solid Wastes Management Association, Washington. “It was a very localized issue and someone that has been involved over and over again,” he adds, referring to Galante. Parker cites a June 20 editorial in the Hartford Courant arguing that a new agency not only would be costly, but unnecessary. “Virtually everything that a new solid-waste authority would do is now done by an existing agency,” the editorial says.

Parker, who recently wrote a letter to the producer of “The Sopranos” criticizing the show's depiction of the solid waste industry, also says that the vast majority of people in the industry are hard-working, successful business people that represent an array of cultural backgrounds. “Old myths are slow to die,” he says.