St. Louis County

A Good Day for a Hanging

Former County Executive Steve Stenger pleads not guilty to bribery, mail fraud, and theft of honest services, as giddiness infects the press gallery and U.S. Marshals hand out steno pads.

All Smiles: Former St. Louis County Executive Steve Stenger (fourth from left) poses with other dignitaries on Dec. 13, 2018 at the NGA Land Transfer ceremony held at the St. Louis Public Library Central Branch. Immediately behind Stenger is Deputy Assistant Secretary of the Air Force Richard K. Hartley, a former CIA operative attached to the National Reconnaissance Office, 1997 to 2003.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Hal Goldsmith stayed on script Monday afternoon, responding tersely to questions posed by a gaggle of reporters during a news conference held on the sidewalk outside the Thomas Eagleton Federal Courthouse in downtown St. Louis.

“We are confident of our case,” Goldsmith said, referring to the three-count criminal indictment issued by the U.S. Justice Department against former St. Louis County Executive Steve Stenger. Following this vague answer, a veteran broadcast journalist turned aside and muttered to himself: “Great sound bite — six words.”

The dearth of prosecutorial verbosity and courthouse histrionics did not deter the assembled press, however, from relishing the proceedings in an amicable atmosphere akin to the camaraderie shared by farmers of bygone days who went to town to witness a hanging in the public square.

To commemorate the auspicious event, U.S. Marshals offered free notebooks and pens, but there were few takers. The journalists in attendance seemed satisfied to gloat rather than scribble. KMOV-TV hired a sketch artist for the occasion.

The only thing missing were picnic baskets.

After pleading not guilty to bribery, mail fraud and theft of honest services, Stenger was released on his own recognizance by Judge Noelle  C. Collins. Celebrated defense attorney Scott Rosenblum represented Stenger during the arraignment.

The second term Democrat resigned from public office Monday morning following the release of the indictments. He had won reelection in November but continued to be dogged by allegations of corruption involving favors granted to campaign contributors, including businessman John Rallo. The scandal, which played out in the pages of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch and before the St. Louis County Council over the course of the last year, centered on the actions of Stenger underling Shelia Sweeney, CEO of the St. Louis Economic Development Partnership.

Five Post-Dispatch reporters contributed to the story today. A pack of TV and radio reporters were also present.

One of the many questions not asked of Goldsmith at his sidewalk press conference was whether federal investigators are probing the contract between the St. Louis Economic Development Partnership and Kit Bond Strategies, the lobbying firm of former U.S. Sen. Kit Bond and his wife.

In January 2016,   Linda Bond, the former senator’s wife, signed a contract with St. Louis Economic Development Partnership CEO Sheila Sweeney. The Development Partnership is a joint government agency of the city of St. Louis and St. Louis County, which wields broad powers and operates largely in the shadows with the benefit of millions of dollars in annual payments from  casino interests raked in by the St. Louis County Port Authority, an agency that shares the same staff as the Development Partnership. The County Port Authority’s purpose has nothing to do with ports. Instead, it acts as a conduit for the casino payments.

In 2016 and 2017, the St. Louis Economic Development Partnership funneled $230,000 of public funds to Kit Bond Strategies, according to federal lobbying reports. Part of that total went to pay for the failed congressional effort to turn the West Lake Landfill Superfund Site over to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers — an agency that expressed serious reservations about assuming the responsibility for taking control of the project in the first place. The exact amount spent specifically on the West Lake lobbying effort is uncertain. A request under the Missouri Sunshine Law for further details was denied last fall.  But this much is known:  the development agency’s contract called for KBS to be paid $10,000 a month for its services. The lobbying records show that the public money was doled out to the lobbyist in quarterly payments. The St. Louis Economic Development Partnership paid the lobbying firm an additional $60,000 in 2018 , but by then the effort to persuade Congress to turn the West Lake clean up over to the Corps had been dropped.

Note: Stenger pleaded guilty on May 3. 

Rip Off

Judges in Paradise: Headquarters of Global Security Service near Festus, which is also the residence of the owner of the business — Judge Ed Page, and his wife, Judge Lisa Pagano Page.

Global Security Service — a company founded by convicted murderer William N. Pagano — overcharged the St. Louis Parks Department $285,000 over a period of years, but when the jig was finally up, the feds refused to prosecute. Instead, they claimed the politically-connected firm had been duped. 

The swindle continued undetected for several years, with the co-conspirators funneling misappropriated funds in monthly installments to a dummy corporation located in a South St. Louis County strip mall. Gradually, the pilfering added up to hundreds of thousands of dollars. The majority of the graft involved a city contractor with a checkered history — Global Security Service. But a federal probe concluded that the firm itself was an unwitting victim in the scam.

The St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Dec. 6, 2013.

Two  St. Louis Parks Department officials pleaded guilty to the crime in 2013 and received light prison sentences. In addition to Global Security, two other city contractors avoided prosecution. 

Appearing before Judge Carol E. Jackson at the sentencing of one of the defendants, Assistant U.S. Attorney Hal Goldsmith absolved Global Security and the other vendors of complicity in the scheme, saying “we believe they were duped.” The embezzlement by the high-ranking city employees netted a total of nearly $500,000 from the St. Louis Parks Department. $285,000 of that amount was due to the creative accounting methods of Global Security.

Global Security is owned by Jefferson County Associate Circuit Court Judge Edward L. Page, who took control of the business in 1992, after his father-in-law. William N. Pagano, was charged with murder. Page is married to Pagano’s daughter, Lisa Pagano Page. William Pagano founded Global Security in 1987, while serving as the Festus, Mo. police chief. In 1991, Pagano was charged with homicide in the shooting death of  Mark Todd, a top lieutenant in Pagano’s private security guard service. Pagano was convicted of the crime, but never served time because he committed suicide in 1994, after his appeals efforts had been exhausted.

Jefferson County Associate Circuit Court Judge Ed Page, the late William Pagano’s son-in-law and current president of Global Security Service.

Pagano’s tragic death did not thwart the growth of the company he founded, however. Under his son-in-law’s ownership, Global Security thrived, and mushroomed into one of the largest private security services in the Midwest. Between 2009 and 2013, the company raked in more than $2 million from its city contract alone, providing guard services to the train station, bus depot, Soldiers Memorial and other city-owned sites.

The deal with the city started going sideways when Global Security became involved in the scheme hatched by Deputy Parks Commissioner Joseph Vacca and chief park ranger Thomas “Dan” Stritzel to embezzle city funds under the guise of acquiring additional equipment not provided for in the city budget, according to the federal indictments. The ruse continued for years, with Global Security overcharging the city and funneling the excess money to Dynamic Management Group, a dummy corporation set up by David Michael Goetz, a friend and business associate of Stritzel. But Goldsmith, the federal prosecutor, argued in 2013 that Global Security was an unwitting participant, and, therefore, not complicit.

Then-St. Louis Parks Department Commissioner Gary Bess admitted no foreknowledge of wrongdoing and apologized for the actions of his subordinates. A  little more than a year late, in January 2015, he retired from his long-held city position, and was immediately appointed director of the St. Louis County Parks Department by newly elected St. Louis County Executive Stenger.  Bess resigned his county post last month in the wake of the ouster of Stenger, who pleaded guilty to unrelated federal corruption charges.

Page was recently elected on the Republican ticket as an Associate Circuit Court Judge in Jefferson County. Jefferson County unlike the city of St. Louis and St. Louis County is not bound by the non-partisan court plan. Page’s  wife is a jurist of higher standing. Lisa Page, the daughter of the late William N. Pagano, was appointed to the Missouri Court of Appeals by then-Gov. Jay Nixon, a Democrat, in December 2015.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Mum’s the Word

Sheila Sweeney declined to comment when asked about the lobbying deal she signed with Kit Bond Strategies in 2016. 

As she exited the federal courthouse in St. Louis late Friday afternoon, Sheila Sweeney, 61, refused to comment on whether federal authorities have quizzed her about her role in steering a $240,000 lobbying contract to Kit Bond Strategies in early 2016.

Sheila Sweeney outside the federal courthouse in St. Louis with her attorney Justin Gelfand, Friday May 10, 2019.

Earlier, the former St. Louis Economic Development Partnership CEO pleaded guilty before federal Judge Catherine D. Perry to three-counts of defrauding the citizens of St. Louis County in the same pay-to-play scheme that snared former St. Louis County Executive Steve Stenger. Stenger pleaded guilty last week. Their partner in crime, John “Johnny Roller” Rallo, pleaded not guilty Friday morning. They were all charged with scheming to give contracts and property deals to Rallo in exchange for him contributing to Stenger’s campaign coffers.

The pay offs to Rallo were funneled by Sweeney through the St. Louis County Port Authority, which she also headed. The port authority received the funds from Penn National, the owner of River City Casino in South County. The casino pays the port authority about $5 million a year in rent, which is then passed on to the St. Louis Economic Development Partnership.

The money paid to Kit Bond Strategies appears to have originated from the same pool of cash. Sweeney signed the contract with Linda Bond, a principal partner in KBS with her husband, former U.S. Sen. Kit Bond. The St. Louis Economic Development Partnership paid KBS to lobby Congress to turn over the clean up of the radioactively-contaminated West Lake Landfill to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. The effort to convince Congress to take the overall authority for the clean up away from the EPA and hand it over to the Corps involved coordinating the support of the St. Louis congressional delegation. As part of that effort, Rep. Ann Wagner (R) and Rep. Lacy Clay (D) testified together before a House subcommittee. The effort by KSB also included the support of then-Sen Claire McCaskill (D) and Sen. Roy Blunt (R). Legislation authorizing the turnover to the Corps passed the Senate, but failed to clear the House subcommittee.

 

The lobbying deal was carried out with little to no public knowledge, which raises questions as to why the effort kept on the low down. When asked about the deal on Friday, Sweeney remained mum.

After refusing to comment, Sweeney strolled across Clark Avenue with her attorneys and shared a laugh. She awaits sentencing and has been released on her own recognizance.

Life is good.

 

 

Spy vs. Spy?

In 2015, the Russian news service landed in North County to cover the troubles at West Lake Landfill and Coldwater Creek. The question now is whether the CIA mounted a counter-intelligence operation here.

KWMU reporter Vérinique La Capra aims a microphone at  Mary Oscko as cameras captured the moment in August  2015 at the Hazelwood Community Center.

It’s hard to imagine a more unlikely place for an espionage operation to take place than the Hazelwood Civic Center. But recent revelations by the U.S. intelligence community suggest that it may have been one of the locations in North St. Louis County where a secretive propaganda battle quietly played out in August 2015.

Hundreds of people gathered at the civic center for a community meeting that month had no inkling they were bit actors in this Cold War revival. The overflow crowd that jammed the conference room on August 20 attended  out of concern for the health of their families and the safety of the community. Radioactive contamination leftover from the Manhattan Project and its aftermath still plagued the St. Louis suburbs and residents wanted answers from government officials about the long-delayed clean ups.

Questions were asked, testimonials were given and frustrations were vented at the event, all captured on video by camerapersons, including at least one with ties to RT America, the Russian foreign news service.

In the heat of the moment, those present were not aware that they were pawns in a larger political struggle between the U.S. and Russia. Evidence of the covert chess game didn’t surface until January of this year, long after the meeting had faded in the community’s collective memory.

That’s when the CIA took the unprecedented step of releasing a classified report on alleged Russian interference in American politics. The unusual act by the agency was spurred by the continuing controversy over Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election. Those allegations remain the focus of  congressional investigations, and a probe by an independent counsel appointed by the Justice Department.

Allegations of the hacking of email accounts of Democratic presidential candidate Hilary Clinton and her campaign staff by Russian operatives prompted the CIA’s release of the report. But the majority of the declassified information in the report is unrelated to the furor over whether Donald Trump and his cronies benefited from the alleged Russian intrusion.

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RT honcho Margarita Simonyan briefs Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin in October 2012 in Moscow. (photo courtesy of the CIA’s declassified report)

Instead, the CIA released an intelligence assessment put together in 2012  that details how RT America is allegedly used by the Kremlin as a propaganda tool to cast the U.S.  government in a bad light.

The obvious question this now raises is whether the CIA mounted a domestic counter espionage campaign to offset the perceived damage being inflicted by the negative image that the Russian news service allegedly broadcast not only in America but to a global audience via the Internet.

The CIA report was compiled in 2012 three years before the Russians showed up in North St. Louis County and four years before the U.S. presidential campaign. Though classified, it can be assumed that its contents were shared with the White House and other federal departments and agencies.

It is therefore reasonable to surmise that the CIA and other government agencies were not simply monitoring Russia’s interference in America — but actively combatting it with their own surreptitious operations.

If this is true, it begs the question as to whether American intelligence assets were present at the Hazelwood Civic Center that sultry, late summer evening back in 2015.

Only The Shadow knows.

Correction: Originally, this story identified the meeting as taking place at the Machinist Union Hall in Bridgeton. Instead, the meeting took place at the Hazelwood Community Center. 

 

When Security Itself Becomes a Threat

Republic Services, owner of the radioactively-contaminated West Lake landfill,  employs a security guard service with historical ties to the CIA, DOE and State Department.  

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The motto emblazoned on its vehicles is “Securing Your World.”  But G4 Security Solutions’ job in Bridgeton, Mo. is a tad more parochial: It guards Republic Services’ polluted property.  The gig sounds like little more than a standard rent-a-cop deal. But there are reasons to suspect otherwise.

As the underground fire continues to burn unimpeded towards the radioactive waste at West Lake, things have heated up on the surface as well.

Vigilance became a corporate imperative following protests staged by the Earth Defense Coalition on March 31. In the wake of that demonstration, Republic, the owner of the radioactively-contaminated West Lake Landfill, pledged to prevent future disruptions of its business from occurring, and G4S Security Solutions is responsible for keeping that promise.

The protest shutdown Republic’s trash sorting operations at the location for 12 hours, after environmental activists blocked the entrance of the troubled landfill, demanding the EPA relinquish control of the site and handover the clean up duties to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

The security company finds itself in the middle of a battle between private interests and public health. Despite its central role in the controversy,  G4S’s presence has garnered little attention until now.

Patrolling the perimeter of the West Lake Superfund site is the most obvious part of G4S’s job description.  Whether the security company has additional duties related to protecting Republic Services’ interests is unclear. But if the history of the security company’s operations are any indication, G4S’s role at West Lake may involve more than just manning the guardhouse at the front entrance.

That’s because the British corporation inherited the cloak and dagger reputation of Wackenhut Security, after merging with the notorious American espionage firm in the early 2000s.  The cost of that buyout was pegged at $500 million.

Besides offering guard services, Wackenhut specialized in intelligence gathering, and keeping tabs on millions of American citizens suspected of being left-wing subversives or communist sympathizers.

George Wackenhut, a former FBI agent, founded the company in the 1950s during the McCarthy era.  In the intervening years, Wackenhut Security grew in size and influence, scoring hundreds of millions of dollars in government contracts from federal agencies, including the Department of Energy and U.S. State Department. By the early 1990s, Wackenhut Security was known as the “shadow CIA,” because of the clandestine services it offered to the intelligence community both at home and abroad.

G4S, Wackenhut’s successor, was founded in 2004, when the British multinational security company Securicor merged with a Danish counterpart, Group 4 Falck.

Today, G4S Security Solutions is inextricably tethered to Wackenhut’s tainted legacy. Its British parent company boasts more than 60,000 employees in 125 nations, and is reputedly among the largest employers in Europe and Africa.  Closer to home, its American operation has the dubious distinction of being the employer of Omar Mateen, the mass murderer who killed 49 people and wounded 53 others at an Orlando nightclub last year.

Not surprisingly, G4S Security Solutions denies any culpability for that horrid act.  The Jupiter, Florida-based company, after all, can attribute the mass shooting by its longtime employee as being a random act of violence. It’s not quite as easy to deny the nefarious legacy of Wackenhut Security, however.

G4S now owns it.

By the mid-1960s, Wackenhut was known to be keeping dossiers on more than four million Americans, having acquired the files of a former staffer of the House Committee on Un-American activities. In response to congressional reforms in the post-Watergate era, Wackenhut donated its cache of blacklisted individuals to the virulent anti-communist Church League of America in Wheaton, Illinois, but didn’t give up access to the information. The league cooperated closely with the so-called “red squads” of big city police departments from coast to coast  that spied on suspected communist agitators.

By the early 1990s, Wackenhut was the largest provider of security services to U.S. embassies around the world, including U.S. State Department missions in Chile, Greece and El Salvador, where the CIA was known to have colluded with right-wing death squads.

Wackenhut also guarded nuclear sites in Hanford, Wash. and Savannah River, S.C.  and the Nevada nuclear test site for the Department Energy and its predecessor, the Atomic Energy Commission.

As the company gained more power, it recruited an influential board of directors that included former FBI director Clarence Kelley and Defense Secretary and CIA deputy director Frank Carlucci. William Casey, President Ronald Reagan’s CIA director, served as Wackenhut’s lawyer before joining the Reagan administration.

There is also evidence during the Iran-Contra era of the 1980s that Wackenhut worked for the CIA to supply the regime of Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein with dual-use technology that could be utilized to make chemical and nuclear weapons.

It could be argued that G4S Security Solutions’ current services at West Lake are unrelated to its predecessor’s tainted past. But many of the residents of St. Louis whose lives have been impacted by Republic Services’ radioactively-contaminated landfill would likely not agree that history is inconsequential.

They already know better.

 

 

A Secret Biological Intelligence Program

In 2007, the same congressional committee that years later refused to transfer authority for the clean up of West Lake Landfill to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, investigated the awarding of a Homeland Security bio-surveillance contract to SAIC, the giant defense contractor.

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Leidos offices in St. Louis at 2327 South Grand Blvd.

 During President George W. Bush’s administration, the House Committee on Energy and Commerce announced an inquiry into the National Bio-surveillance Integration System, an intelligence gathering operation of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security administered by the Science Applications International Corp. (SAIC).

The House committee was then apparently interested in whether the bidding process was rigged.

In 2013, SAIC spun off a large portion of its classified government work by forming another company, Leidos. Both SAIC and Leidos have received  multi-million-dollar contracts to do clean up work  for the  U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Formerly Utilized Site Remediation Program (FUSRAP) in St. Louis, including the continuing cleanup of Coldwater Creek in North St. Louis County.

In addition to its environmental engineering component, Leidos is the largest private cyber espionage outfit in the nation with estimated government contracts worth $60 billion. The company employs 80 percent of the private-sector work force engaged in contract work for U.S. spy and surveillance agencies, including Homeland Security, the CIA and NSA.

Leidos also has a contract with the Missouri Department of Natural Resources through its  federal facilities management division.

The earlier creation of the National Bio-surveillance Integration by Homeland Security through its contract with SAIC has received little subsequent attention. The program was authorized by President George W. Bush under Presidential Directive 10. Its stated mission was “to provide early detection and situational awareness of biological events of potential national consequence by acquiring, integrating, analyzing, and disseminating existing human, animal, plant, and environmental bio-surveillance system data into a common operating picture,” according to the Department of Homeland Security.

The Department of Homeland Security further describes the classified program as follows: “The National Biosurveillance Integration Center (NBIC) integrates, analyzes, and distributes key information about health and disease events to help ensure the nation’s responses are well-informed, save lives, and minimize economic impact.” 

Spurred by the outcries of concerned residents about potential health problems associated with chronic exposure to radioactive waste, the St. Louis County Health Department in conjunction with the federal Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry have taken an active interest in the radioactive waste issue in the St. Louis region.  Whether Homeland’s Bio-Surveillance operation is monitoring conditions in St. Louis independently or with the cooperation of these other government agencies remains unknown.

Other community activists have long advocated taking away the control of the West Lake Landfill Superfund site in Bridgeton, Mo.  from the EPA and putting it under the control of the Corps of Engineers FUSRAP program, which has authority over the other St. Louis area radioactive sites.  But despite bi-partisan support of the St. Louis area congressional delegation, a bill slotted to shift control died in the House Committee on Energy and Commerce last year.

The West Lake Landfill Superfund site is owned by Republic Services Inc., the second-largest waste disposal company in the U.S. The company’s chief spokesman is Russ Knocke, a former top spokesman for the Department of Homeland Security.

The presence of a top-secret operation inside an AT&T building near West Lake Landfill in Bridgeton adds another murky hue to an already cloudy picture. The facility is presumed to be controlled by the National Security Agency but may house some other unknown government covert operation.

 

 

WASTED IN WEST COUNTY

As a prelude to snuffing the flames at the Times Beach dioxin incinerator, the EPA moved more than 4,000 tons of “special” waste from the clean-up site to a controversial landfill in St. Louis County

published in the Riverfront Times (St. Louis) July 9, 1997

BY C.D. STELZER

In late May, when the dump trucks began rumbling down Vance and Sulphur Springs Roads in southwest St. Louis County, residents along the route had no way of knowing that the vehicles were hauling chemically- contaminated soil from Times Beach. That’s because no one from the federal, state or local government bothered to tell them.

Ultimately, over a two-week period, a total of 4,466 tons of non- dioxin-contaminated waste, which had been excavated from the site of the former Times Beach city park, wound up at the nearby Superior Oak Ridge Landfill. The soils contained dangerous volatile organic chemicals, including ethylbenzine, toluene, xylene, tetrocholorethylene and trichloroethylene.

No less than three sources reached for this story refused to comment on the transfer of the waste, citing a confidentiality agreement with the EPA — an agreement the EPA doesn’t even acknowledge exists. An EPA attorney, who did go on the record, said she had no idea how much the city park clean up cost. A public affairs spokeswoman for the agency asked that all questions pertaining to landfill shipments be placed in writing. Although a Freedom of Information Act request was submitted, there have been no answers yet.

The stealthy manner in which the tainted dirt was relocated and the silence since then has led opponents of the Superfund cleanup to further criticize the project, which is now near completion. In advance of a media event to publicize the final snuffing of the flames at the Times Beach dioxin incinerator, the public affairs office at the site disconnected its phone. (park here)
Officials who have been contacted have attempted to diffuse the issue. The word from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the Missouri Department of Natural Resources (DNR) and the St. Louis County Health Department is that there is nothing to worry about because the soil that went to the landfill contains only low-levels of contamination. Indeed, they emphasize that the latest tests show negligible amounts of toxic chemicals at the city park site. By contrast, the EPA’s own 1986 draft feasibility study claimed that soil contamination at the park went20 feet deep and ground water was contaminated with 13 different chemicals.

In the latest tests, the EPA didn’t search for highly-toxic polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) because none were recorded to have been found in tests conducted in 1991. But earlier tests conducted in 1982 showed PCBs present at the same location, according to sources close to the Times Beach clean up. This apparent discrepancy may be explained to a degree by the natural breakdown of the chemicals over time. Public confidence in the reliability of EPA data has also broken down over time, however, and PCBs are known to be persistent in the environment. Aside from not informing the public in a timely manner, the transfer of the waste to the landfill raises other concerns. The Riverfront Times has learned the following:

* The landfill that accepted the waste from the Times Beach city park has repeatedly been cited for operating violations by the DNR. Superior Services Inc. of Wisconsin, the new landfill owner, has yet to fully rectify the latest problem, according to the Missouri Attorney General’s office. Interestingly, Superior also controls a subsidiary specializing in hazardous waste cleanups. That company has done work for the EPA in the past.

* James B. Becker, who owned the landfill until last year, headed a consulting engineering firm that did survey work at the Times Beach clean up, according to the DNR. Records show his son is still the managing operator for the landfill. The elder Becker, a heavy campaign contributor to County Democrats, has been involved in past political controversies.
* The former mayor of Times Beach and a civil attorney with knowledge of the case both say the city park tested positive for highly- toxic PCBs in 1982. Sampling at that time also found other hazardous chemicals. Tests conducted nine years later, however, somehow failed to find any PCBs In May, the EPA chose not to sample again for the persistent chemical and claims to have found only insignificant levels of other contaminants.

* A driver for Russell Bliss, the waste hauler who sprayed Times Beach with dioxin-contaminated oil, admitted dumping liquid chemical waste at the same site (then called West County Landfill) in the early 1970s, according to copies of government documents obtained by the RFT.

“What’s really strange about this whole thing is they took Superfund money to take material they were afraid was going to leach into the ground water at Times Beach, and dumped it into a municipal waste landfill in West County that has been out of compliance for the lastdecade,” says Steve Taylor of the Times Beach Action Group (TBAG).

Taylor and other local environmental activists have long charged that incineration — the mandated method of disposing of dioxin- contaminated waste in Eastern Missouri — falls short of meeting the EPA’s own stringent emissions standards and thereby endangers human health and the environment. Evidence uncovered by TBAG late last year cast doubt on the reliability of a crucial 1995 stack emissions test, which was conducted to verify the operational safety of the incinerator.

Now that Syntex, the liable party in the dioxin clean up, has finished burning 265,000 tons of dioxin-contaminated soil (more than twice the amount originally estimated), TBAG is concerned about the remaining waste. This separate phase of the remediation has until now received little or no attention. Under the terms of the 1990 consent decree, non- dioxin contaminated materials could not be burned at the Times Beach incinerator. In some cases, barrels of hazardous waste have been shipped out of state for disposal. Soil deemed to contain only low levels of contamination, however, could be legally moved to an ordinary sanitary landfill for disposal.

In the case of the Times Beach city park, the EPA sought and received permits from both the state and county to haul “special waste” to the Superior Oak Ridge Landfill. To move the waste, the EPA circumvented its own strict regulations by deferring to more lenient guidelines imposed by the DNR, according to Martha Steincamp, an EPA attorney. Steincamp referred to the city park clean up as a “removal action not a remedial action.” She compared the landfill shipments to the disposal of other non-hazardous waste at the site such as flood debris and abandoned household goods. When asked why such seemingly benign materials needed to be disposed of at all, Steincamp replied: “Because Times Beach is going to be a park and we want to clean it all up.”
Unlike the high-profile incineration project, shipments of the contaminants to the landfill went virtually unnoticed. The press release relating to the project failed to mention the destination of the waste other than to say, “the contaminated soil will be transported off-site to a licensed disposal facility.”

A spokeswoman for the St. Louis County Health Department doesn’t see why local government should have been any more vigilant in alerting citizens than the EPA has been. “If we put out a news release every time somebody shipped properly handled waste, that’s not news, says Ellen Waters. “What benefit would it be to the citizens to know the waste is being properly handled? It’s good to know, but it almost goes withoutsaying. The assumption is always there — that’s what we do day in and day out.”

If the current name of the landfill — Superior Oak Ridge — seems unfamiliar that’s because up until September of last year the facility was formally known as West County Disposal Ltd. Among area residents it is still simply referred to as West County Landfill. Superior Services Inc., the new owner, is a Wisconsin-based solid waste management firm.
The current violation at the landfill dates back to November 1991, when the Missouri Attorney General’s office filed suit on behalf of the DNR. The DNR had cited the landfill for exceeding its vertical limits because trash had piled up 680 feet high, 40 feet over the limit. Last year, a $30,000 fine was imposed on the prior landfill operator. Since acquiring the landfill in September, Superior Services has not brought the facility into compliance with state requirements, according to Joseph P. Bindbeutel, chief counsel of the environmental division of the Missouri Attorney General’s office.

“From our standpoint as enforcers, … they bought a pig in a poke,” say Bindbeutel. “And they are continuing to sort of pay the dues of operational confusion out at that landfill. There are so many plans, and so many intentions, and so many maps, and so many management techniques out there nobody knew how they were going to operate. … Becker (the prior owner) actually committed the violation,” says Bindbeutel. “But we will be demanding remediation and penalties from the new operator. They bought the overfill. They’re responsible for it.”

Despite the tough talk, Bindbeutel indicates the state appreciates what Superior has contributed — namely a $4 million assurance bond to cover any emergencies or future closure. Bindbuetel also credits Superior for actively seeking to make improvements at the site. “They redesigned the active part of the landfill completely, including a methane recovery system that will very much benefit the environment.”

Peter J. Ruud, vice president and chief counsel for Superior, refused to discuss the sale terms, and cited a confidentiality agreement with the EPA concerning the contaminated waste from Times Beach. But it’s no secret the company has expanded lately through a series of acquisitions in the Midwest. The solid waste management firm also owns a subsidiary, Superior Specialty Services that handles hazardous waste cleanups, including contracts with the EPA

In essence, Superior bought the former West County Disposal Ltd., changed it name and acquired the same operating permit held by the previous owner. The Wisconsin company acquired all potential liability associated with the landfill, too. Mitch Stepro, the special waste coordinator for the landfill, also refused to discuss the Times Beach waste, citing a confidentiality agreement with the EPA. Because both sides are remaining mum, it is unclear why the out-of-state company would buy into a landfill that faces possible further sanctions by the state.

Becker, the former landfill owner, referred all questions to his attorney, Brian McGovern, who accused the DNR of dragging its bureaucratic feet. “There was an exceedence of the vertical elevations, but they’re was also a counter claim alleged,” says McGovern. “Plans had been submitted at the landfill that would have allowed access to additional areas.” But the DNR put off looking at the landfill’s expansion plans for four years, according to McGovern, thus stymieing the operator’s ability to contain the waste in a more appropriate manner.
Problems at the landfill go back more than four years, however.

West County Landfill acquired its first operating permit in December 1972, and public protests started immediately. One early critic, geologist Charles Felt of St. Louis University, told the St. Louis Globe-Democrat : “My research indicates that the area is not suitable for a landfill. In the first place, rocks underneath the area would allow water to pass through.” In 1973, Martin D. Baron of the Coalition for the Environment voiced more opposition, telling the County Council the water quality of the nearby Meramec River needed to be protected.

The pleas fell on deaf ears. The County approved the license for the 129-acre landfill and problems at the site began to mount. In 1983, the state ordered the landfill closed, alleging Becker had failed to take adequate steps to protect ground and surface water from pollution. But West County continued to operate while it appealed the case. Two years later, DNR finally reached a settlement agreement that imposed strict guidelines on the landfill. A DNR official then said the stiff requirements had been imposed because soil conditions at the facility allowed waste to seep into the ground.

In recent years, neighbors of the landfill complained to the St. Louis County Council about odors. Other residents notified authorities of dumping late a night. But the County did little. Perhaps the most telling evidence of official disdain for citizens’ concerns is found in complaint log #8071 on file at the St. Louis County Health Department. In a letterdated May 11, 1996, residents of Greenfield Crossing Court asked for help to stem “the pollution, strong unpleasant odors, noise and traffic caused by the operators of the landfill.” In response, an unknown official jotted in the margin, “What pollution? (These are) all conditions associated with normal landfill operations. Why did they buy property next to a landfill, if they did not like these conditions?”

In 1991, when West County community activist Angela Dillmon started checking out local candidates, she found Becker had contributed heavily to Democrats on the County Council, particularly, the campaign of County Executive Buzz Westfall. By Dillmon’s tally, Becker and individuals and companies connected to him gave Westfall tens of thousands of dollars. “It was serious money,” says Dillmon.

It wasn’t the first time Becker had become involved in local politics. In 1974, he pled the Fifth Amendment 58 times in the perjury trial of then-St. Louis Building Commissioner Kenneth O. Brown. Brown was charged with lying to a grand jury about a $1,500 check he had received from Becker. The prosecution alleged the money was paid to Brown for steering work to Becker’s consulting engineering firm.

Later, from 1984 to 1987, the late St. Louis County highway director Richard F. Daykin got the County Council to give more than $800,000 in no- bid contracts to James B. Becker Consulting Engineers, according to press accounts. At that time, Daykin’s son, Richard J. Daykin, worked for Becker’s engineering firm. While employed by Becker, the younger Daykin helped survey the Times Beach site.

After his father’s death, Daykin befriended Taylor, the TBAG activist. He then told Taylor of irregularities in soil sampling he had observed at Times Beach. He also mentioned safety violations at the site. Daykin repeated his allegations in an interview with an environmental attorney who was preparing a federal suit to try and halt incinerator operations.

But Daykin never got a chance to go on the record. In August 1995, Federal Judge John F. Nangle reaffirmed Superfund clean ups can’t be sued until after they are completed. That judicial ruling is not what permanently silenced Daykin, however. He died of injuries received in a one-car accident early last year.

Taylor is hesitant to broach the subject of his friend’s death. “There was no indications of foul play,” he says. “It is presumed by friends and family to have been an accident. We don’t really know because there weren’t many questions asked. Rich was always hesitant about bringing up things,” says Taylor. “But he came to his own realization things weren’ton the up and up at Times Beach. He thought a lot of things that happened down there were suspicious.”

For its part, the EPA claims ignorance of all these details. “I don’t keep up on St. Louis politics that much,” says Martha Steincamp, the regional counsel for the EPA. “The most important thing to us, of course, is that we are selecting a location that is properly licensed and approved by whomever the licensing authorities are to receive this waste. In this case, there were discussions with the county officials and it was a properly licensed landfill to receive special waste and they did have the conditional use permit.”

In 1995, Marilyn Leisner, the former mayor of Times Beach, told the RFT the city park site contained PCBs, albeit low levels. Her recollection is based on private testing done in 1982 prior to the evacuation of the dioxin-contaminated town. “When the testing was completed, it was determined the PCBs were only at the city park,” said Leisner. “In the cleanup at Times Beach, Syntex is not responsible for the PCBs. So the park cleanup is not being done by Syntex; it is being done separately by the EPA.”

As Leisner and Steincamp both explain it, dioxin at Times Beach fell under Superfund regulation, which made Syntex, the liable party, responsible for its clean up. But the PCB contamination at the city park came under the auspices of another federal law, the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA). RCRA regulations allow the states to set the contamination guidelines.

Gerson Smoger, an attorney who represented former Times Beach residents, couldn’t corroborate Leisner’s recollection exactly, but he did remember the presence of PCBs at the city park, as well as, elsewhere in Times Beach. “When they were doing the testing, the assumption made in the early 1980s was that dioxin was of such extreme harm that anything else was irrelevant.” Nevertheless, according to Smoger, the concentrations of PCBs alone were high enough to declare Times Beach a hazardous waste site. “One would assume there would still be PCBs there, ” says Smoger. But, according to sampling conducted in 1991, the PCBs — a persistent environmental pollutant — had somehow vanished.

PCBs or no PCBs, significant levels of volatile organic chemicals were indisputably detected at the city park as early as 1982. Private tests conducted at that time for the city of Times Beach showed thepresence of toluene at 120,000 part per billion (ppb), ethyl benzene at 170,000 ppb, acetone at 82,000 ppb and xylenes at up to 510,000 ppb. A Centers for Disease Control spokesman commented then that the contaminants were “of concern, ” but pronounced there was no emergency response necessary. As a result, the chemicals continued to leach into the ground water for another 15 years before they were transported to the Superior Oak Ridge Landfill in late May and early June. Although the landfill now uses pumps and liners to prevent seepage, there is still a chance some of the remaining contaminants could potentially pollute water entering the Meramec River.

Of course, if the waste isn’t hazardous, as the EPA contends, there would be no reasonable cause to move it in the first place. On the other hand, if it does warrant disposal, there seems little logic in shipping it to a landfill in the same ecologically sensitive watershed.
Anne McCauley, the EPA on-site coordinator for the city park clean up says several factors weighed into the decision to send the waste to Superior Oak Ridge. “One was the location relative to the site we were cleaning up,” says McCauley. “It was very close to the city park site. The transportation route was very short in addition to the fact that the facility is permitted to accept this kind of waste.”

Not surprisingly Taylor of TBAG has a diametrically opposed view. “We believe this is more of a toxic-waste shell game than a clean up,” he says. “We feel there’s a lot of secrets. That this whole incineration project was about preserving secrets and protecting commercial interests more than protecting public health.”

One well-kept secret is contained in the files of the Collinsville office of the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency (IEPA). In late 1982, after the extent of Bliss’s toxic spraying binge became known, the IEPA asked its federal counterpart for information on sites in Illinois that Bliss may have contaminated a decade earlier.

In one document handed over by the EPA, there is a reference to the West County Landfill. At the time, there seemed to be some confusion by state officials as to whether the landfill was in Missouri or Illinois. The IEPA summary lists the source of the information as Stephen P. Krchma of the Missouri Attorney General’s office. Krchma had in turn based his report on an interview with David Covert, one of Bliss’s drivers. The summary citation reads:

Wastes were also reported by Covert to be hauled to the West County landfill in Sulphur Springs (IL or MO?) where the operators were paid off to accept the wastes.”
The reference to Sulphur Springs most likely denotes the St. Louis County road on which West County Landfill (now Superior Oak Ridge Landfill) is located.

On December 23, 1982, IEPA officials interviewed Covert themselves. During the interview, Covert talked about picking up ink from a company in St. Louis County. “It smells terrible and I don’t think it burns,” said Covert. “You just haul that stuff into the west county landfill and open the valve and let it run out.” Before they were banned, PCBs were used in the manufacture of ink.
The reason the EPA and DNR passed over the West County Landfill in their own search appear to be twofold. For one, another Bliss driver changed his story. According to the EPA’s dioxin site tracking list, Gary Lambarth “indicated he had oiled the road in the landfill around 1972.”

Lambarth made that statement in the spring of 1983. By fall, however, he reversed himself, claiming he had confused West County with another landfill. In addition, the EPA dioxin tracking list states that DNR was “deferring action until (the) relationship with ongoing litigation is determined.” As already mentioned, the state agency had attempted to close the landfill in 1983 because Becker had failed to adequately protect ground and surface water from pollution.
In a sense, the waste from the city park completes the contamination circle. Two Bliss drivers initially confessed to dumping waste at West County Landfill in the early 1970s. Only one is known to have retracted the admission. The state cited the landfill for water pollution violations in 1983, but has continued to allow the landfill to operate. Complaints by citizens have been dismissed by the County. Meanwhile, those involved in accepting contaminated waste from Times Beach refuse to comment, citing a confidentiality agreement with the EPA. The silence extends to the U.S. attorney’s office in St. Louis. “We don’t confirm or deny the possible existence of an investigation,” says Jan Diltz, a local Department of Justice (DOJ) spokeswoman. She declined to comment further on whether there is a current federal inquiry into activities at Time Beach.

In 1982, the DOJ — acting on behalf of the EPA and the White House — withheld documents from a congressional investigation, citing executive privilege. Among the documents the DOJ refused to hand over were handwritten notes of EPA attorney James Kohanek, pertaining toproposed activity on Missouri dioxin sites. In a published account, then- U.S. Rep. Elliott Levitas, D-Ga., who sat on House Public Works Committee, remembered exactly when the stonewalling began. “As far as I was concerned, it was just a routine exercise in oversight,” said Levitas of the congressional inquiry. “Right in the middle of it there was a decision made by the EPA … permitting sanitary landfills to be used to receive liquid waste. … Then boom — the door got shut.”