Mobsters have a long history of making a killing in the garbage-hauling business, but a New Jersey commission says they have gone green by infiltrating the commercial recycling business.
The New Jersey State Commission of Investigation reported Tuesday that organized crime continues to find and exploit holes in a regulatory system that hasn't been updated in decades. A law adopted in 1983 that was designed to keep criminals out of the solid waste business isn't properly enforced and commercial recyclers remain largely unregulated.
"The integrity of this industry remains in peril," the commission wrote. "The industry today remains open to manipulation and abuse by criminal elements."
Organized crime's ties to garbage hauling reach back at least half a century.
The New Jersey commission first uncovered significant criminal intrusion into solid waste disposal in 1969. The infiltration was most prominent in the 1980s, when organized crime had a stranglehold on the industry, forcing out legitimate operators through extortion. A string of prosecutions and new regulations _ licensing requirements and background checks _ helped weed out underground operators.
The commission found that the aging regulations, funding and staffing shortages and inter-agency communication problems "aren't working as well as intended to keep criminal elements out of the industry," said commission spokesman Lee Seglem.
The commission said it was particularly bothered by evidence of organized crime's infiltration into commercial recycling, which has become lucrative in the 25 years since New Jersey adopted a mandatory garbage separation and recycling law.
New Jersey requires background checks for "key employees" involved in solid waste hauling. New York's tougher licensing laws _ it requires checks for consultants and sales associates in solid waste and for recyclers _ encourage organized crime to set up shop across the Hudson River in New Jersey, investigators say.
One example cited in the report is Joseph Lemmo Jr., whom the commission called a "poster boy" for gaps in the state's solid waste licensing law.
Despite multiple criminal convictions and ties to the Genovese crime family, Lemmo made more than $1 million a year operating within plain sight for more than a decade, the commission said. Though his criminal convictions should have barred him from the industry in New Jersey, he found a back way in through a truck-rental company that supplied trailers to a waste-hauling company owned by his cousin, the report said.
Lemmo did not reply to a notice from the commission inviting a written response. A phone message left with his former company, which he sold two years ago, was not immediately returned.
People also have gotten around the law through front companies or by having relatives with clean criminal records obtain licenses, the commission found.
The commission recommended several changes, including stronger laws and more money and manpower for enforcement. It said the state's solid waste and disposal licensing requirements should be extended to recycling. Recognizing that government budgets are being stretched thin by the recession, the commission also suggested charging licensing fees to haulers to generate money for enforcement.
Additional concerns were raised concern about potential environmental consequences of a waste-hauling industry running amok, including midnight dumping, the mixing of hazardous and solid-waste material and the resale of junked computer components.
The governor's office said it was reviewing the report. Michael Drewniak, a spokesman for Gov. Chris Christie, said the governor is confident in his administration's ability to manage available resources to properly regulate the solid waste and recycling industries and enforce criminal laws.
The three-member commission said similar recommendations have been made before.
"In 1969, the commission revealed that organized crime rooted in New York was spreading into commercial garbage collection in New Jersey and warned that the industry was at dire risk of becoming rife with bribery, extortion, price-fixing, collusive bidding and other forms of corruption," the commissioners wrote.
It issued additional warnings after the 1983 legislation required garbage haulers to be licensed, saying the new law was being improperly enforced.
"That the commission today, more than 20 years later, must repeat some of the same general findings and recommendations is a testament to the price of warnings ignored, opportunities lost and legislative intent undermined," the most recent report states. "The ability of mob-affiliated entrepreneurs to continue profiting from the system even after they have been unmasked reflects a fundamental flaw."