Don Van der Linde? Wasteworks whacks recycler with RICO

cover-vanderlinde-web"It's a legal terrorist tactic," says Peter Van der Linde of the RSWA's decision to use RICO. FILE PHOTO BY JEN FARIELLO

Just when we thought it couldn't� 

cover-vanderlinde-web"It's a legal terrorist tactic," says Peter Van der Linde of the RSWA's decision to use RICO. FILE PHOTO BY JEN FARIELLO

Just when we thought it couldn't get any hotter, the Rivanna Solid Waste Authority recently turned up the heat on its $3.5 million lawsuit against recycling entrepreneur Peter Van der Linde, accusing him of running a Mafia-style trash operation.

Authority lawyers have now decided to sue Van der Linde under provisions of RICO, the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act, the federal law passed in 1970 for the government's fight against organized crime, such as the Hell's Angels and the Gambino family. Controversially, RICO has been applied more liberally in recent years, allowing private parties to sue, but the Authority must still prove a "pattern of racketeering activity."

While Van der Linde's lawyer, Lamar Garren, stops short of calling it an intimidation tactic, he says it certainly "ups the ante."

Under RICO, Van der Linde's assets could be seized, and if found liable, the judge could triple any damage award. There's also a chance Van der Linde could do jail time. RICO also lessens the burden of proof on the Authority, as showing a mere "pattern of activity" has always been sufficient evidence for a RICO conviction.

Initially, Van der Linde says he was a bit fearful when he heard the word RICO, as the seizure of assets could potentially shut down the $11 million construction recycling facility he opened last December and threatens an impending expansion into household waste.

"It's a legal terrorist tactic," says the outspoken businessman, adding that the Authority must have thought he'd give up by now. "But they didn't know who they were dealing with," he says. "I don't know what 'give up' means."

The Authority alleges that Van der Linde, who has long run a dumpster business, ordered his drivers and other employees to lie about the origins of their loads when they were brought to the nearby RSWA-sponsored transfer station at Zion Crossroads (which is just yards away from Van der Linde's new facility), run by BFI at the time (BFI was later sold to Allied Waste, which recently merged with Republic Services), thereby avoiding the RSWA's $16 "Service Contribution Fee" charged to all trash originating in Albemarle County.

Of course, the RSWA may have been fleeced by its own partner in trash long before Van der Linde came into the picture, as RSWA documents obtained by the Hook show that BFI employees were “completely unaware” of their duty to collect a “service contribution fee" in 2005, seven years after the fee arrangement was inked, and that the Authority was prepared to take legal action. But that's another story.

On July 31, the two sides squared off at a hearing in Charlottesville Circuit Court, part of the discovery phase of a jury trial scheduled for next June, during which Authority lawyer Jonathan Blank with McGuireWoods presented documents, provided by BFI, that showed a sudden drop in the amount of Albemarle trash Van der Linde's drivers declared between August 2006 and September 2007.

Van der Linde has argued that BFI's scale-master stopped asking his drivers about the origins of their loads during that time, and has provided the Authority's lawyers with the results of a private investigation that shows, via audio and visual recordings, that the scale-master rarely asked anyone. What's more, Van der Linde has argued that there was no incentive for him to lie about trash origins, as BFI actually charged him more for bringing out-of-area loads.

In 2006, Van der Linde sued the RSWA, claiming the service contribution fee was unconstitutional and gave BFI an unfair competitive advantage, as the private hauler was exempt from the fee. Van der Linde lost the case, as the judge ruled that the issue was better addressed through the political process.

Ironically, the man the RWSA has accused of not paying those service fees would be the one to undo the fee system. Today, because Van der Linde's new facility is offering the same services for less, the RSWA has acknowledged that it won't be able to "function" under the fee system.

Though just a hearing, Blank appeared to be in prosecutorial mode, seven times using the word "liar" to describe Van der Linde, accusing him of destroying key documents, and appearing to fish for an early ruling from judge Edward Hogshire, telling the judge that documents would "prove his guilt."

"I have a serious problem. I need the court's help," said Blank, informing the judge that taxpayer money was being used to pay for the expensive lawsuit. "If we don't need to proceed, we will save a ton of money."

"We just had to sit there on our hands and listen to that," said Van der Linde later. "That hearing was the first case I've had of feeling violated."

The key documents, Blank revealed, were the "field tickets" handed to drivers, which told them where the dumpsters for pick-up were located. Blank argued they were the "Rosetta Stone" that would help determine how much local trash Van der Linde brought in.

"But they've said they didn't need to keep the field tickets," said Hogshire.

Another Van der Linde lawyer, Corban Klug, pointed out that the field tickets weren't the "lovely" and orderly documents Blank suggested–- merely drivers' directions. He said that all the documentation about the origins of each load were available on the company's computer, which the defense had repeatedly offered to hand over to the RSWA for a forensic analysis, so origins weren't lost when they discarded tickets.

"But you did," said Blank excitedly, pointing out that the judge had ordered Van der Linde to preserve all his documents at a hearing last summer.

"Look, you've got the whole package," said Hogshire, referring to the offer to hand over the computer. "Why wouldn't that work?

Blank complained that the plaintiff didn't have the resources or the know-how to examine the computer, and he again reminded the judge about taxpayer money.

"You can figure it out," said Hogshire.

As for Van der Linde's lawyers, Hogshire had equally strong words.

"Knowing you were going through litigation, why in the world would you destroy the field tickets?" he asked. "As evidence, originals would be better, as opposed to computer documents. I can't imagine anyone 'innocently' destroying documents."

Later, defense counsel Garren told the Hook that he couldn't comment on the existence of the field tickets, but was confident that the information on Van der Linde's computer, which would include everything about his business, would be sufficient in determining the origins of trash loads.

Although the Authority has refused to discuss the case–- indeed, Charlottesville Mayor Dave Norris, County Supervisors Anne Mallek and Sally Thomas, the RSWA's own citizens advisory board, and other officials first learned about about the lawsuit from a Hook reporter–- it appears the RICO move stems from the testimony and evidence, in particular one of those field tickets, supplied by a former Van der Linde employee, Richard Wade Kendrick of Palmyra.

While every other Van der Linde employee has denied wrongdoing in depositions, Kendrick has said that Van der Linde did indeed ask his drivers to lie.

"He didn't directly tell drivers; he ran it through his dispatcher," said Kendrick, who called a Hook reporter in June to complain that the coverage of Van der Linde had been too favorable.

"He's guilty," said Kendrick. "He's guilty of fraud and conspiracy. Every time he opens his mouth it's a lie."

As part of its RICO move, Authority lawyers have deposed all of Van der Linde's drivers for questioning, and have blamed the company dispatcher, Jeanie Donnelly, a mother of four, for conspiring with drivers to bilk the RSWA out of millions in fees.

"He said we would be terminated if we didn't use other places outside the district on our bills," said Kendrick. "The drivers are all guilty. No other drivers are speaking up because they are afraid of being fired."

According to Van der Linde, however, Kendrick had already been fired–- and arrested–- when he gave the interview.

Van der Linde says Kendrick sent him an "extortion letter" in April asking for $75,000 or else he would tell the RSWA he was asked to lie. Van der Linde took the letter to police, and Kendrick was arrested April 30. Apparently, it wasn't the first time.

As part of Kendrick's upcoming attempted extortion trail, which will take place in December in Fluvanna County, the Charlottesville court learned that Kendrick had been convicted of numerous felonies and had spent more than 20 years in jail, facts Blank acknowledged during the hearing when he mentioned who had given him the sample field ticket, and that Kendrick himself acknowledged during his deposition.

However, Kendrick claims that he simply asked Van der Linde for money to hire a lawyer to represent the drivers in the RSWA's lawsuit, but then Van der Linde charged him with extortion.

"We don't think much of the RSWA's theory," says defense counsel Garren, "and the testimony of the other drivers is not consistent with Mr. Kendrick's."

Asked what might be behind the RSWA's decision to use RICO, to embrace Kendrick as its star witness, and Blank's aggressive manner so early in the game, Garren said he could only speculate.

"We honestly don't know," he said.

Related stories:

February 14, 2008Coming soon! van der Linde's amazing recycling machine

July 17, 2008Single-streamin': Why not try private sector recycling machine?

April 2, 2009What a Waste: Is the trash Authority going obsolete?

April 20, 2009Wasted revenue? Authority realized in 2005 station didn’t track origins

May 29, 2009Recycle this! Van der Linde steps up tone

August 17, 2009Trash talkin’: Waste war could decide the future

This story is a part of the Waste War: the fight over trash and recycling special.

19 comments

SO, we have a private citizen who has invested 11M of his own money and implemented an innovative way to recycle trash without sorting and at a lower cost and the city gorvernment is suing him? Is this right?

I thought that we awarded better ideas in a capitalistic society.

This deserves to be on 60 minutes!

The story gets even more convoluted. RSWA does not know or appear to care how much money McIntire Recycling Center costs to run or is losing every year.

Check out analysis of David Brown's position and commentary on RSWA analysis on www.schillingshow.com

Another question I have is --if this is about recovery of fees why a RICO trial which means federal court, a jury, weeks of testimony. I can't begin to imagine the expense and I know the Rivanna lawyer is paid $515 an hour. The only reason I can imagine for this move is to intimidate Mr. Van der Linde into shutting down, which is the only way apparently RSWA can survive.

There has got to be a better way to settle this ! I am pleading with our elected officials to talk to Mr. Van der Linde and intervene with RSWA and find a mediated way out of this mess and not go to federal court which will surely ruin him and the taxpayers pocket books as well.

I agree with Downing Smith this makes me want to cry .

See the connection --same cast of characters as the RWSA --when will our officials wake up and stop this insanity ?

Great articles Dave --they can't say no one told them.

Here is a description of the Rivanna Solid Waste Authority. You can also get a history of the Rivanna Water and Sewer Authority at the same site

http://www.cvillepedia.org/mediawiki/index.php/Rivanna_Solid_Waste_Autho...

At least Van der Linde’s representatives volunteered to ban his big, orange, loud trucks off of Route 250. Before this we would hear them going down the road, while in the shower, at arount 5:00 in the morning. How would you like to hear this noise at this time of morning? At least he did something to help the Fluvanna County citizens after numerous complaints. I haven’t seen any of his trucks on Route 250 since. This is more than I can say for BFI and its big customers that use the facility a/k/a Allied Waste! Just take a look at the poor condition of Route 250 heading west from Zions Crossroads because of all of these trucks that won’t use I-64 at Zions Crossroads but continue to use Route 250 when they have no pick ups on the road. We understand the private trash haulers that pick up on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays. At least they provide a service to the community. But anything larger than those should use I-64 at Zions Crossroads out of community service and respect to those that live on Route 250. We were here before these facilities were built! We sympathize that BFI a/k/a Allied Waste isn’t taxpayer friendly to City of Charlottesville and Albemarle County resident because they sure aren’t to those Fluvanna County residents who live on Route 250. Get with the program BFI!

Another point: Fluvanna County is in the middle of this mess! If the facility was located in the City of Charlottesville or Albemarle County then obviously the fee would be collected on everyone using the facility because this is where the trash and debris would be coming from! Obviously, Fluvanna County wouldn’t be hauling their trash and debris to the City or Albemarle County when they have their own facility at Zions Crossroads. Just a thought.

David Brown did answer some of my questions and he does support the suit and believes that Mr. Van der Linde is not being truthful. He also said:
” From what I know a dirty mrf can only extract 5 - 15% as recyclables (knowing you to be a GREAT researcher, I hope you will look into it, and let me know what you discover). The City does better; it makes a big difference to separate out recyclables first (How can paper really be separated from coffee grounds and banana peels?)”

So loyal readers am asking your help does anyone know the answer to this question ?

Well maybe with this fiasco the county will leave the guy who owns Arbys alone for awhile....

Our government is run by idiots.

Saw this in Sundays Chicago Tribune..

Link: http://www.chicagotribune.com/news/local/chi-pizza-rico-13-aug13,0,24007...

A pizzaria owner in a zoned development area alleges his local governmental organization and the bigwig developer is trying to prevent him from re-developing his own property- they want him to sell out and he doesn't want to. So he's using RICO to try and strike back.

Point being it's not that uncommon to try and use RICO in a civil case.

Given that a steadily increasing number of people no longer feel that either the RWSA or RSWA are acting in the best interests of the citizens, what are our options? They are public boards, correct? So I assume that neither the county nor the city can discharge them of their duties. Nor would anyone on the BOS every be convinced to do so, considering how tied in they are to maintaining the status quo.

So, are there any legal options available to the impacted citizens to remove either or both of these boards, and replace them with more responsible and accountable members?

I agree with you all. The term "insane" keeps popping up. DadofTwo is right: I want this question asked at the candidates forum.

Anyone know the producer, I agree let's get some national coverage for this story it's unbelievable !

Mooney
Is the source of the information correct. Recycling isn't as avaliable to the town as one would think. I lived in a house that trashed nearly 90% recycliables(beer cans and glass), when we talked to the city and trash people they said that we couldn't have extra bins and had to stamp and bag. We got extra bins through a lot of elbowing but why didn't they just give them to us?

I think we really got em becouse of all the trash in the yard and noise complants. The neighbors gave em to us as a plee.

Things I learned from this article:

WOW! We have a real Tony Saprano living amongst us here!

I'm not sure I would call it a legal terrorist tactic. Sounds more like existing laws being abused.

Kendrick will be one of their star witnesses? That's hilarious!

Taxpayer's money once again being spent like there is no end to it. And just like in the Elisha Strom case, how long did it take them to come up with what they think they can make appear to be a legitimate charge (in their minds).

Is there any end to all this insanity? Day in and day out, it's nothing but the government versus honest hard working citizens, the "us vs them" attitude in all branches of government.

Call your Supervisors and Councelors and demand they replace these boards. It is election time and I think now is the time to call the question of where they stand: For or Against Frederick and his board.

Today I sent the following letter to David Brown who serves on the board of the RSWA . I hope other city residents will join me in asking our elected officials for a public briefing on this matter.
I would encourage county residents to contact Mr. Boyd, who also serves on this board, and ask for the same. Mr. Brown can be reached at-- dbrowndc@gmail.com

Dear David,

Are you supporting this lawsuit and the expenditure of taxpayer dollars to pursue this lawsuit? I have many questions about this, and would like to see Council receive a briefing that is public so we can understand why all this money is being spent, in what seems to be an attempt to eliminate competition that could result in a savings for taxpayers, and a better way to recycle for our community.

Betty

Welcome to Crazy Town, where the guy who actually solves a problem is punishes by the people who are the source of the problem.

Who, exactly, is the RWSA? If our Cville and county officials didn't know about this lawsuit and found out about it from a Hook reporter, who is behind it?

This has to stop. What a waste.

Unfortunately these bodies are largely outside the control of the voters and even with one member of the city council and one member of the board of supervisors appointed to these boards I feel a completely elected board would be more accountable to the community and provide better governance.

this is the link to the Rivanna Water and Sewer Authority

http://www.cvillepedia.org/mediawiki/index.php/Rivanna_Water_and_Sewer_A...