A two-year FBI investigation of Baltimore landfills that involved wiretaps and informants found some employees taking bribes and others stealing then selling thousands of dollars worth of scrap metal, federal agents said in court records.
At times, workers took bribes to allow trash companies to avoid dumping fees; they also directed customers to place scrap metal into their personal vehicles — schemes that siphoned off hundreds of thousands of dollars in city revenues, according to the records.
Five city public works employees were arrested and charged in U.S. District Court after raids that capped the investigation, according to court records and an FBI spokeswoman.
Among those charged were William Charles Nemec, a 55-year-old supervisor who has worked for the agency since 1979, and cashier Tamara Oliver Washington, 54. They face charges of bribery and conspiracy to solicit bribes from a program receiving federal funds. They are accused of taking kickbacks to allow commercial haulers to use the facility without paying disposal fees.
After receiving an envelope with a $500 bribe in an April meeting recorded by the FBI, Nemec said the money would "come in handy for the wedding."
Jarrod Terrell Hazelton, Michael Theodore Bennett and Charles Dennis Bolden were charged with theft and conspiracy to steal from a program receiving federal funds, with agents alleging the laborers collected and sold scrap metal from the dump during work hours.
Hazelton sold more than $400,000 worth of scrap metal in recent years, including "a significant amount" taken from a city facility, agents say.
The defendants made their first appearances in court Tuesday and Wednesday and were released from custody, court records show. None could be reached for comment, and none had attorneys listed in court records.
Public Works Director Rudy Chow declined to directly address the allegations in the case, saying in a statement that "there is no room for unethical or illegal behavior in the Baltimore City Department of Public Works."
The city's waste management system generates revenue for the city by collecting and selling recyclable scrap metal, such as steel, copper, aluminum, and items such as refrigerators, air conditioners, stoves, washers, dryers and water heaters. Companies are awarded contracts to remove such items from its convenience centers, and the city bills them for the value of the scrap metal.
Hazelton, Bennett and Bolden are accused of "junking," a term used by other DPW employees to describe stealing salvageable items during work hours and selling them to private salvage yards for cash.
The FBI has been monitoring Hazelton's phone since March 2013 and Bennett's since May 2013, according to court records.
"They already know we work at the landfill," Bennett said of a private salvage company, in one recorded call. "They know where it's coming from. You feel what I'm saying. They don't give a [expletive] where it's coming from, they just want it."
A state law passed in 2009 requires secondhand metal dealers to record all transactions. From those records, the FBI determined that Hazelton made $402,400 selling scrap, some of which the agency believes was taken from DPW's Northwest Transfer Station, according to court records.
Bennett is accused of directing customers at the Northwest Transfer Station to place scrap metal into his truck.
Agent Heather Grow wrote that Hazleton and Bennett "spent a significant part of their work days engaged in junking activities while receiving an hourly wage, sometimes as much as 30 percent of their work shift."
The investigation of Nemec and Washington appears to have begun in July 2013, a few months after the investigation of the laborers began. The FBI said it used confidential sources who have been previously charged with bribery of public officials and are working with the government in exchange for leniency at their sentencing.
A source who was being recorded drove into the landfill with a load of recyclable and trash items and encountered Bolden, who asked what he was discarding. Bolden said he would take radiators that were part of the load, and told the source to put them in his black truck, according to court documents.
Over the ensuing months, the source was directed to pay bribes to cashiers at the facility — Washington, and another woman who is named in court records but has not been charged, according to the documents. The agent noted that a uniformed Baltimore police officer is usually inside the scale house during operational hours, and all bribes paid to Washington and the second cashier were made while they were in the scale house.
Large haulers who drop off materials at the Quarantine Road landfill are required to weigh in and are assessed a "tipping fee" of $67.50 per ton.
"Most of the haulers who paid bribes to avoid the disposal fee use the landfill multiple times a week, and sometimes multiple times a day, which can save a single hauler thousands of dollars a week," Special Agent Robert Guynn wrote in an affidavit.
Nemec was a supervisor there, and a second source working with the FBI inside the landfill told authorities that he or she along with Nemec and Washington had been soliciting and accepting cash payments at the scale house for years. The haulers were given fraudulent receipts to "maintain the pretense that the hauler paid the required disposal fee," Guynn wrote.
Nemec, Washington and the FBI source received thousands of dollars in bribes, according to court documents. From October 2014 to May 6, the source received $8,820 in bribes from one hauler alone, the documents state.
In January, Nemec went on sick leave, but still drove to the facility after finding out that one of his haulers was being charged the required fee, the FBI alleges. In a recorded conversation, he complained that the hauler had been charged $28,000 that week.
"Put [the hauler] on the payroll," Nemec told the source.
None of the businesses involved in the payments is identified in court documents, and none has been charged. A spokeswoman from the FBI declined to comment on the case.
City salary records show that Nemec, a supervisor, was paid $58,070 in fiscal year 2014, while Washington was paid $34,990. Hazelton, who has worked for the city since 2006, was paid $29,820 in salary; Bennett, an employee since 2007, earned $30,750; and Bolden, an employee since 2004, made $30,340, records show.