One morning in March, commercial trash hauler Adam Williams Jr. sent a text message to a Baltimore Department of Public Works employee at the city-owned Quarantine Road Landfill that read, "N. The. Gum."
Two minutes later, according to a federal indictment unsealed Tuesday, Williams pulled up to a window where haulers usually pay a $67.50-per-ton city "tipping fee" based on the amount of trash they've offloaded at the landfill. Instead, he handed the DPW employee a brown paper bag with "an open pack of gum with $500 in cash stuffed inside."
Federal prosecutors say the money was just one example of a wide-ranging bribery scheme that took place for more than a decade and cost the city $6 million in "tipping fee" revenues.
Similar transactions regularly occurred between at least six commercial haulers and four DPW employees between 2001 and this year, the 44-count indictment said, with the haulers paying the landfill employees between $50 and $100 per visit to the landfill on a daily or weekly basis.
As a result, the indictment alleges, the haulers involved won an advantage over their commercial competitors and the DPW employees made thousands of dollars.
The indictment was one of two announced by Maryland U.S. Attorney Rod J. Rosenstein on two "related but separate schemes" at the Quarantine Road facility and the city-owned Northwest Transfer Station facility — both uncovered by a sprawling, years-long investigation that involved wiretaps and informants.
That investigation was first revealed last month in criminal complaints filed by the FBI against five DPW employees. Those employees were again named in Tuesday's indictments, as were Williams and the five other commercial haulers — bringing the total number of people indicted in the schemes to 11.
In addition to Williams of Ice Trucking & Roll-Off Service, the first indictment names haulers Mustafa Sharif of Dependable Contracting and Recycling, LLC; Larry Lowry of Lowery's Trash Removal; Quentin Turgot Glenn and Jessie Lee Wilson, Jr. of Glenn Services; and John Howard Brady of Brady's Roll Off Service.
It also names DPW employees Tamara Oliver Washington, a scale house operator; William Charles Nemec Sr., a solid waste supervisor; and Charles Dennis Bolden, Sr., a landfill laborer.
None of DPW employees, the haulers or their businesses could be reached for comment. All have appeared before judges and been released, Rosenstein's office said.
Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake said in a statement, "There is no place in city government for waste, fraud and abuse that cheats taxpayers. We have increased both funding and staffing for the office of the Inspector General to continue aggressively investigating this kind of fraudulent waste. I encourage both residents and city employees to continue reporting incidents of waste, fraud and abuse so that we can take proper steps to hold those found of wrongdoing accountable."
On Tuesday, FBI Special Agent in Charge Scott Hinckley said his agency would "remain relentless in our pursuit to root out corruption and fraud anywhere, including Baltimore City, especially when it has a negative impact on the American taxpayer."
"This case is an example of how just a small group of corrupt government employees can bring significant damage," he said. "The U.S. attorney already mentioned that the city lost approximately $6 million in revenue. In the times we have right now in Baltimore City, obviously that $6 million could've been better spent in other arenas."
The second, 18-count indictment alleges Nemec and Bolden also conspired with two other DPW employees — Michael Theodore Bennett and Jarrod Terrell Hazelton — to steal nearly $900,000 worth of scrap metal from the Quarantine Road site and the Northwest Transfer Station between 2005 and 2015.
Hazelton, a landfill laborer, could not be reached for comment. Bennett, a Northwest Transfer Station laborer, declined to comment. Both have been released after appearing before a judge, Rosenstein's office said.
One other DPW employee — the one who allegedly took the brown paper bag from Williams — has not been named.
In the tipping-fee case — which includes charges of conspiracy, bribery and extortion — the defendants could face decades in prison, Rosenstein's office said.
The defendants in the scrap-metal case also could face decades in prison, on charges of conspiracy, wire fraud, theft from a government program, and filing false tax returns or failing to file tax returns, Rosenstein's office said. For example, Hazelton earned hundreds of thousands of dollars from the scrap scheme that he never reported to the IRS, according to the indictment.
Baltimore Inspector General Robert H. Pearre Jr., who appeared at a Tuesday news conference announcing the indictments with Rosenstein and FBI and IRS officials, said the investigation began three years ago when a DPW employee came to his office with a tip.
Instead of charging a few individuals swiftly following a quick police investigation on minor charges for individual bribes or thefts, Pearre said, he took the information to federal law enforcement officials — launching the broader investigation.
Investigators watched the operations at the landfill and transfer station for years, tapping the phones of those involved and using informants to go into the facilities posing as customers. They also reviewed information from second-hand metal dealers, who since 2009 have been required to record all transactions.
The officials described the investigation as a sophisticated approach to uprooting public corruption and identifying city revenue losses.
Pearre said his office is bringing on an additional audit manager and agent to help ensure the landfill and transfer facilities operations are changed to avoid similar corruption in the future.
"Going forward, they will be working with the Department of Public Works to tighten internal controls over these and other business practices to eliminate the opportunity for these corrupt activities to happen again in the future," Pearre said.
According to the indictment, at least one of the DPW employees allegedly involved thought it improbable that federal authorities would ever be interested in underhanded landfill deals.
About two years ago, Hazelton wondered aloud why authorities were following his truck, the indictment states.
On the phone with a friend in early 2013, Hazelton mentioned taking "junk out the landfill" where he worked and selling it for his own personal gain, but he thought it would be "crazy" if authorities were tracking him just for that.
Turns out they were, and they'd already tapped his phone.