County Waste & Recycling may have shorted the town as much as $15 million by evading landfill fees, according to a criminal investigation now under way, Supervisor Paula Mahan said Thursday.
Investigators with the state Department of Environmental Conservation and the state Attorney General’s Office arrived early Thursday at the town landfill off Route 9 as part of a probe into the allegations by a whistleblower against the waste collection firm, Mahan said.
The complaint alleges that Colonie town landfill workers systematically failed to weigh the trucks when they arrived as part of an arrangement with County Waste. The whistleblower said the haulers, who pay by weight, defrauded the town.
County Waste issued a statement late Thursday that said the company acted properly and the evidence will speak for itself.
The company, one of the region’s largest waste haulers, was fined $10,000 earlier this year by the DEC for illegal waste disposal in Troy.
The latest allegations were in a sealed complaint filed in Albany County by a former employee at County Waste in Clifton Park, according to Mahan. The person who filed the information has not been identified.
“My office has been cooperating with Attorney General [Andrew] Cuomo to assist in any aspect of the investigation,” Mahan said at a news conference Thursday afternoon at Town Hall. “To that extent, I want to assure the taxpayers of the town that in the event it is determined there is wrongdoing on the part of anybody affiliated with this town, I will demand accountability and will do everything in my power to make sure the taxpayers are made whole.”
On Thursday morning, DEC law enforcement personnel stopped vehicles and prevented them from entering the town landfill and the company’s transfer station in Clifton Park.
“We are not commenting at all on the case,” said a DEC spokeswoman.
No personnel changes were made Thursday at the landfill.
“It’s something we can’t even look at this point — we have no results. The investigation is ongoing,” said Mahan.
Based on input from concerned employees and residents, and on internal reviews, Mahan said, she was concerned that activities at the landfill were not being scrutinized adequately.
Before she learned about the state investigation on Thursday, she had requested an audit be done of the landfill, with results expected next week. “Unfortunately, the allegations we learned of this morning may confirm my worst suspicions,” she said.
A report showed that the landfill took in 30,000 tons less last year than the state DEC permit allows, the gas system there was not monitored properly and landfill equipment frequently broke down.
Depending on the outcome of the investigation, the town may pursue legal action against County Waste to get back the $15 million allegedly taken, according to Mahan.
County Waste & Recycling issued a written statement from CEO and President Scott Earl:
“County Waste & Recycling is cooperating fully with the Attorney General and the state Department of Environmental Conservation. We are confident the inquiry will find that the company acted properly. We will let the evidence speak for itself.
“The company is now back to normal operations and business as usual. All solid waste management facilities and collection routes are on regular schedules.”
Joseph Stockbridge, director of the town’s environmental services department, could not be reached on Thursday and is on vacation, according to a woman at the landfill. He isn’t expected back until Monday.
Mahan said Stockbridge was responsible for overseeing the landfill accounting and record-keeping.
Mahan, a Democrat who took office in January after years of Republican rule, has spent much of her first seven months in office trying to reduce the town deficit and straighten out town finances.
Earlier this year, a state audit determined the town had an $18 million deficit, which included $9 million the town owed to its landfill closure fund.
This additional $15 million that might have been lost is not part of the initial accounting of the town deficit.
Former supervisor Mary Brizzell, ousted by Mahan in a close election last year, said on Thursday she didn’t have all the facts and was only learning about it from news outlets.
“It’s a little mind-boggling to say it happened. I’m not sure it happened. They say they are allegations. I don’t know how something like that goes unnoticed,” said Brizzell.
Brizzell said Stockbridge has always been a “forthright, upstanding department head and takes his job very seriously.”
She said she doesn’t know why the claims were brought to the district attorney in 2007 and nothing was brought to light.
Brizzell said that the whistleblower never contacted her while she was supervisor and she knew nothing about any fraud at the landfill. Tonnage was down at the landfill because of construction going on at the landfill, according to Brizzell.