New Jersey just can't seem to shed its image as the Soprano state.
How so? The state once again has become a haven for criminally tainted garbage and recycling entrepreneurs, according to still another report from the State Commission of Investigation (SCI). This is the third time in four decades the commission has put authorities on notice of criminal elements in New Jersey's solid waste industry.
Joseph Lemmo Jr. is a poster boy for the problem, according to the commission in the report it issued yesterday. "Despite multiple criminal convictions and ties to organized crime, Lemmo profited richly from the industry, operating for years in plain sight, without intervention by state regulators," the report said.
That was not supposed to happen when the legislature, acting on the first commission report back in the 1960's, enacted a law in 1983 that was supposed to drive organized crime and other criminal elements out of an industry long dominated by the mob.
Instead the law has been exploited by criminals who have found a way to conduct a lucrative business in the waste-hauling and recycling industries, using loopholes in the law and chronic inadequate funding of the licensing law to enrich themselves -- even while being barred from the sector, according to the commission.
Take Lemmo, who has a record of gambling, tax evasion, and firearms convictions. Banned from the industry, he set up a company in South Plainfield that provided 30 tractor trailers to a legitimately licensed waste hauler, earning him profits of $1 million a year.
Or Vincent Cirncione, who was banned in 1995. Nonetheless, he owns land occupied by a licensed solid waste transfer station and recycling operation that nets him $200,000 a year.
Other banned individuals profit richly from businesses in the industry headed by relatives without convictions. This allows them to avoid scrutiny under the licensing law, which is widely known as A-901, the bill number it received when it first won passage to much acclaim in 1983.
Others escape scrutiny because of uneven communication between various state licensing agencies, the report said.
For example, Frank Fiumferddo Sr., a convicted felon and Gambino family member was sentenced to more than 12 years in federal prison on mail fraud and racketeering charges on illegal waste dumping in Staten Island. Despite that, the Fiumfrerddo family managed to acquire control of a waste hauling and recycling firm in Hamilton, which had a solid waste license from the state.
These examples, the report argued, emphasize the need for many reforms in the licensing system, including requiring the licensing of those involved in the recycling industry.
"It is long past time to meaningful reform and action of a caliber that once and for all will put New Jersey on the right track," the report said. Among other things, the report called for enactment of special licensing fees that would address the licensing program's chronic underfunding.
In a previous report, the SCI suggested the state needs to provide at least $4.8 million to adequately fund the program. In the fiscal year 2010 budget, that leveI is set at $1.7 million. To remedy the problem, the SCI report suggests enacting special licensing fees to deal with the inadequate funding.
The commission recommended that the licensing program be substantially strengthened and that it be expanded to require -- for the first time -- scrutiny of individuals and entities engaged not only in garbage hauling, but in recycling as well.
"Of particular concern," according to the report, "is the vulnerability to corruption of certain activities, such as the recycling and disposal of contaminated soil and demolition debris that pose serious potential environmental and public health consequences."
With regard to bolstering available resources, the commission recommended that the legislature and governor consider a variety of self-funding mechanisms to provide adequate support for the program.
Sen. Raymond Lesniak (D-Union), who sponsored the bill when he was an assemblyman back in 1983, said he's already begun drafting legislation that will attempt to close two of the loopholes identified by the SCI. They are requiring recycling agents to be licensed and extending disqualifications to all parties involved in the company. "It would include property owners who lease property to a company or even a consultant. That was how they had gotten around the accountability," he said.
Despite this, Lesniak took issue with the tone of the report, saying that the 1983 law "has been tremendously successful legislation. It has transformed the industry and driven most of the bad actors out of town."
Before A-901, said Lesniak, the mob controlled all municipal and private solid-waste carting. "They divided the state into territories. If you bid on someone else's territory, your life expectancy was drastically reduced."
"I got death threats [at the time of the initial legislation] and for the SCI to demean what we have done is totally irresponsible," Lesniak said.